Vanderbilt adds two more talented newcomers to the fold
From April issue of Commodore Nation
Vanderbilt track coach, a cancer survivor, visited Washington last week
Record-setting times highlight final day of Vanderbilt meet
Commodores set to host Vanderbilt Indoor Invitational
Photos from the 2013 Vanderbilt Invitational by Mike Strasinger.
Keith has served as the head cross country for the past 10 years, and has guided the Commodores to four straight berths in the NCAA Championships, including guiding the team to its first-ever appearance in 2011. He was was named South Region Coach of the Year in 2014 after the Commodores claimed their first region title in program history. Keith has also served as head coach of the track and field program for the past four seasons, and has led the team to host of school records in that span.
"I'm very familiar with the level of competition and caliber it takes to be at the top of the conference," said Keith. "If you can be an SEC title contender then you can be at a top 10 national level and that is our goal. Our recruiting has been geared to building a contending program and we have seen significant progress toward this goal."
During the 2014-15 track campaign, Keith directed the Commodores to a record-setting season in outdoor track that included sending nine representatives to the NCAA Regionals to compete in a total of eight events, which marked a new program high. Vanderbilt also made a splash during the indoor season, capping the year with a total of seven scoring performances -- in six separate events -- at the SEC Indoor Championships. The 2014-15 season also featured the continued rise of sophomore triple jumper Simone Charley, who earned First Team All-American honors during both the outdoor and indoor seasons.
Following the 2014 cross country campaign, Keith was named South Region Coach of the Year after directing the Commodores' women's team to a benchmark season that included the program's first-ever NCAA South Region Championship and a second-place finish at the SEC Championships.
Vanderbilt won the South Region title by beating two-time defending region champion Florida State by one point. Vanderbilt -- which rose to a season-high No. 12-ranking in the USTFCCCA poll after the region title -- advanced to the 2014 NCAA Championships, marking the team's fourth straight appearance. Vanderbilt finished 28th at the Championships.
The 2014 cross-country regular season featured a series of impressive performances by the Vanderbilt women, including early-season victories at the Belmont Opener and the Commodores Classic. The list has also included an eighth-place finish at the Roy Griak Invitational, followed by a sensational showing at the adidas Invitational in Wisconsin, where the Commodores tied for ninth and finished in front of 10 teams that were ranked in ahead of them in the USTFCCCA poll. Vanderbilt then earned a second-place finish at the SEC Championships, which represented the second-highest finish in the program's history behind only the 2011 SEC championship team.
During the 2013-14 season, Keith guided the women's cross country team to its third straight trip to the NCAA Championship and helped the track and field team continue to gain national exposure by having nine athletes qualify for the NCAA East Preliminary. The Commodores had representatives qualify in seven separate events, which was a new school record.
Keith also played an instrumental role in Simone Charley's development as a track star during the 13-14 campaign. Charley had a breakout freshman season, earning Second Team All-American status with a ninth-place finish in the triple jump at the NCAA Championships. Charley also competed in the triple jump at the USATF Junior Championships in Eugene, Oregon, where she broke her own school record and set a lifetime personal best with a mark of 43-2.50. She missed qualifying for the IAAF World Championships by just one centimeter while earning a third-place finish.
The '13-14 track team established a huge collection of new school records, led by the outstanding work of two freshmen stars -- pole-vaulter Sarah Bell and Charley in the triple jumpe. The season was capped with Vanderbilt having nine qualifiers for the NCAA Preliminary: sophomore Sara Barron, sophomore Lily Williams, junior Rebecca Chandler, junior Amira Joseph, senior Liz Anderson, sophomore Skyler Carpenter, senior Brionne Williams, Bell and Charley.
The '13-14 season also included the grand opening of the Commodores' sparkling $31-million multipurpose indoor facility, which is now the home venue for Vanderbilt's indoor track team. The facility features the Mondo Super X 720 300-meter track. Only four universities in the country have a track with that surface: Arkansas, Sacramento State, UCLA and Vanderbilt. Of those, Vanderbilt is the only indoor track with the Super X 720 -- one of the fastest surfaces for indoor and outdoor track competitions.
In 2012-13, the women's cross country program reached the NCAA Championships for the second consecutive year, Brionne Williams earned All-America status in the indoor high jump and a program record 11 athletes qualified for NCAA action during the outdoor season.
The '12-13 season opened with the women's cross country team returning to the NCAA Championships for the second straight year and the second time in program history. The team spent a majority of the season ranked and won the Belmont Opener and Commodore Classic, before placing third at the SEC Championships. Hannah Jumper earned SEC Freshman of the Year honors, placing seventh at the league meet, while Kristen Findley joined her on the All-SEC team. The Commodores then placed second at the NCAA South Regional, paced by Findley, Jumper and Liz Anderson, securing the NCAA Championship berth.
The 2013 indoor track season saw the program's first All-American since 2005 when Brionne Williams qualified for the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships. Williams finished 15th in the nation in the high jump, earning second team All-America honors.
The 2103 outdoor track season saw the program continue to grow, as 11 athletes qualified for the NCAA East Preliminary Round, the most in school history.
The 2011-12 campaign opened with the women's cross country team taking the SEC title with five Commodores finishing in the top nine. Alexa Rogers (second), Liz Anderson (fourth) and Jordan White (seventh) captured First Team All-SEC honors, while Louise Hannallah (eighth) and Kristen Smith (ninth) earned spots on the second team. Vanderbilt also placed three runners on the All-Freshmen team, as Grace Orders, Rebecca Chandler and Amira Joseph each earned top-30 finishes.
The Commodores went on to finish second at the NCAA South Regional, earning the program's first-ever trip to the NCAA Championships. Vanderbilt placed sixth in the nation at the Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., with Rogers placing 39th and becoming the program's first All-American.
For his efforts in 2011, Keith was named both the Southeastern Conference Women's Cross Country Coach of the Year and the NCAA South Region Women's Cross Country Coach of the Year.
The track season saw Orders earn her second SEC All-Freshman honors of the year, this time in the indoor 3,000 meters. That was followed by an outdoor season that sent six Commodores to the NCAA East Preliminary Round. Kristen Findley, who placed fourth in the 1,500 meters at the SEC Outdoor Championships and set a school record in the event, missed a trip to the NCAA Championships by .16 seconds, placing 13th.
Kristen Smith (5,000 meters), Meagan Martin (pole vault), Morgan Toone (pole vault), Ellie Tidman (high jump) and Brionne Williams (high jump) also qualified for NCAA Preliminary Round competition.
All told, Commodore runners set school records in four indoor events (1000 meters, mile, 3000 meters and distance medley relay), followed by two more school records during the outdoor season (1500 meters and the 4x1500 relay). In addition, there were a combined 54 runs for personal records during the two 2012 track seasons (20 indoor/34 outdoor).
As has become the standard for Keith's teams, the performance in the classroom was just as impressive. Jordan White was named to the Capital One CoSIDA Academic All-District Team, while White, Liz Anderson, Louise Hannallah and Alexa Rogers were named to the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-Academic List.
In his first seven seasons with the Commodores, both the men's and women's cross country programs have earned All-Academic honors (with distinction) with team grade-point averages of at least 3.4.
The 2010-11 track campaign saw middle distance standouts Jordan White, Alexa Rogers and Liz Anderson become NCAA qualifiers. White (4:25.58) and Rogers (4:26.54) both qualified in the 1,500 meters and freshman Liz Anderson ran the 4th best time in school history (16:29.67) in the 5,000 just narrowly missing a berth in the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
During spring 2011, senior Rita Jorgensen ran a school record 800 meter time of 2:05.54 in qualifying for the NCAA Preliminary Round. Jorgensen finished off her stellar career scoring both indoors (mile/3rd) and outdoors (800 meters/5th) at the SEC Championships.
The fall of 2010 was a record-breaking season for Keith and the Commodore cross country team. The women finished third in the SEC and third at the NCAA South Regional, while having White and Jorgensen gain All-SEC honors. Newcomer Anderson was also named to the All-SEC Freshman team.
The season was capped off with Jordan White becoming just the 2nd Vanderbilt individual to qualify for the NCAA Championships with her 10th place finish at the Region meet.
Under Keith, the Vanderbilt Track all-time lists continue to be rewritten, and seemingly every meet produces at least a few personal bests for members of Keith's distance corps. Over their first year each of Keith's new student-athletes routinely see a significant drop from their best high school times and they have continued to progress through their senior year which is a main focus and goal of the program. "Our coaching staff takes tremendous pride and pleasure in seeing our seniors finish their careers with personal bests," he said. "This is what we are all in it for."
As a Vanderbilt alum and cross country letter winner from 1977-81, Keith understands that success as a Commodore rides on maintaining the delicate balance of excellence on the track and in the classroom. Keith has the professional experience - including Division I tenures at Alabama, Texas-El Paso and Georgia Tech - to guide the Commodores into the future.
Before arriving at Vanderbilt, Keith served five years as head women's cross country coach at the University of Alabama. Keith mentored three members of the Crimson Tide women's distance corps to All-SEC honors. Prior to coaching in the SEC, Keith worked with distance runners at the University of Texas-El Paso. In the Texas border community, Keith directed one of the nation's leading distance teams. Coaching both men and women, Keith's runners at UTEP included a pair of NCAA national individual champions and 22 All-America recipients. His top UTEP pupils included Svetlana Badrankova, Jim Svenoy, Carlos Suarez and Bashar Ibrahim.
Badrankova was an elite half-miler, capturing the NCAA women's 800 meters in 2001. Badrankova remains one of the fastest collegiate runners ever at 800 meters, with a personal best of 2:00.9. Svenoy, a Norwegian, won the 1995 NCAA 3,000-meter steeplechase and was a two-time Olympic finalist in the event. Svenoy's winning NCAA effort of 8:21 in the steeplechase still ranks among the all-time Top 10 collegiate runners. Suarez and Ibrahim were All-American middle distance runners, both running sub-4:00 miles.
At Georgia Tech, Keith mentored four All-Americans, including 1,500-meter standout Alan Drosky. Besides Drosky, the other Georgia Tech All-American recipients were steeplechaser Eric Smith, 5,000-meter runner Karen Hoffman, and 800-meter runner Shellie O'Neal.
Keith started his collegiate coaching career at Emory University, serving as distance coach from 1983 to 1986. In his three years there, the men's team qualified for NCAA D-III Cross Country Nationals finishing 20th, 19th and 17th with two individual All-Americans.