Commodores ranked No. 23 in preseason poll

Vanessa Valentine and the Commodores are ranked in the preseason poll for the third straight season.
Aug. 26, 2014

USTFCCCA Top-30 poll 

By David Dawson

For the third straight year, the cross-country Commodores will open the season with a number attached to their name.

The Vanderbilt women's team, which has one of the deepest rosters in the program's history, is ranked No. 23 in the national poll released Tuesday by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA).

"It's always nice to be recognized nationally but we understand our work is cut out for us," said assistant coach Rhonda Riley. "The women have very high goals for themselves this season and are working hard every day to  compete at a national level."

The Commodores -- who will compete in their first meet of the season, the Belmont Opener, on Friday at Percy Warner Park -- are ranked No. 2 in the South Region in the USTFCCCA's regional poll that was released earlier this week.

"It's great to see the team and program getting preseason recognition on a regional and national level," said head coach Steve Keith. "It will be a challenge every week but I know our women are focused and excited for the coming season."

Vanderbilt is one of two SEC teams in the USTFCCCA's national poll, along with No. 7 Arkansas.

There are eight SEC schools ranked among the top-15 in the South Region poll, with No. 2-ranked Vanderbilt followed by No. 3 Alabama, No. 4 Mississippi State, No. 6 Georgia, No. 7 Ole Miss, No. 8 Florida, No. 9 Tennessee and No. 10 Florida. (Arkansas is ranked No. 1 in the South Central region.)

The veteran-led Vanderbilt team has eight upperclassmen on the roster. The team is also boosted by a strong group of young runners that includes last year's talent-rich signing class.



Michigan, with all seven of its runners from its fourth-place 2013 NCAA Championships team back in 2014, was tabbed as the preseason favorite with half of the 12 first-place votes while four other teams split the remaining six first-place nods.

Splitting the remaining six first-place votes were No. 2 Oregon with three, and No. 4 Stanford, No. 5 Georgetown and No. 7 Arkansas with one each. Florida State did not receive a first-place vote, but was nestled in amongst that group at No. 3.

No conference put more schools in the top 30 than the the ACC, which had six. That included two top-10 squads -- FSU and Virginia.

Both the Pac-12 and Big Ten were represented by five squads. The Pac-12 put three in the top-10 - more than any other conference - in Oregon, Stanford and Colorado, while the Big Ten had two in Michigan and Michigan State.

For the Wolverines, this is the first time the program has been ranked No. 1 - at least since 1995, the year to which the USTFCCCA archives date back.  During that time, the Maize and Blue have intermittently flirted with the top spot. They achieved the No. 2 rank four times in the mid-2000s, most recently during the preseason and week one of the 2007 season.

Leading the charge in Michigan`s ascent to No. 1 was sophomore Erin Finn, who finished 30th as a true freshman a year ago in what has become her signature front-running style. The outdoor 10,000-meter All-American leads a contingent of five returners - all but one of whom are juniors or younger - who finished in the top 105 last year.

Coincidentally, Finn's Wolverines are the preseason favorites in the year of the 20th anniversary of Michigan's all-time best cross country team, which finished runner-up at nationals in 1994. If recent history holds true with Michigan, this year could be even more momentous: each of the past four preseason women's favorites have gone on to win the title.

the most recent of those champions, Providence, didn't fare nearly so well in Tuesday's poll. After losing All-Americans Emily Sisson and Laura Nagel, the Friars dropped all the way down to No. 18 to start their national title defense campaign. That's a far steeper drop than any defending champion - men or women - has ever suffered at least far back as the beginning of the USTFCCCA archives in 1995, leaving returning two-time All-American Sarah Collins and her Friars a tough climb back to the top.

The next-most severe falloff? The 2000 BYU women started at No. 6 after winning the 1999 national crown.

Arizona - last year's runner-up to Providence - lost several key runners and consequently dropped out of the National Coaches Poll altogether to begin 2014.

Speaking of recent national champions, No. 2 Oregon will be looking to take back the crown they wore in 2012 after a disappointing 14th-place national finish last year. The Ducks return three top-100 finishers from a year ago, but counting Lindsey Crevoiserat's 42nd-place finish in 2012 at UConn and recent transfer Waverly Neer's 40th-place showing in 2011 Oregon has five women with top-100 credentials - plus last year's 101st-place finisher.

Add in top-flight high school recruit Sarah Baxter - after all, Oregon has had decent luck with first-year runners of late - and the Ducks are in a strong position to potentially reclaim their title.

No. 3 Florida State had its streak of six consecutive national podium finishes snapped a year ago with an uncharacteristic eighth-place showing, but the national consensus is that FSU will be right back in the thick of the race again in 2014. The rank certainly isn't new territory for the program: FSU has been ranked No. 1, 2 or 3 in 31 of the past 39 polls dating back to 2010.

Two-time All-American and top-10 finisher Colleen Quigley returns along with two other top-100 finishers.

Coming in at No. 4, Stanford is trending high after an 11th-place national finish a year ago. The rank is thanks largely in part to not only one of the nation's top returners in two-time All-American Aisling Cuffe, but also two very strong recruits in Nike Cross Nationals (high school) runner-up Elise Cranny and Australian Anna Laman. Both Cranny and Laman were 1500 meters finalists at this past summer's IAAF World Junior Championships in Eugene, Ore.

This could be a resurgence for Stanford, as the last time the Cardinal was ranked in the preseason top four was 2008 - the final year in a string of 13 consecutive top-four preseason nods that included five national titles and five more podium finishes.

Rounding out the top five was Georgetown in the exact same position as at NCAAs a year ago. Two women - Katrina Coogan and Annemarie Maag - who ran for the Hoyas' 2011 national championship team and also ran in 2013 are back, looking to take one more crack at another crown. Coogan is among the four top-100 finishers Georgetown returns this year, tied for the most in the nation with top-ranked Michigan and No. 6 Michigan State.

The aforementioned MSU Spartans (sixth in 2013), No. 7 Arkansas (15th in 2013), No. 8 Colorado (seventh in 2013), No. 9 Iowa State (13th in 2013) - the only team with two returning All-Americans in Crystal Nelson and Bethanie Brown - and No. 10 Virginia (ninth in 2013) complete the top 10.

The No. 10 slot for Virginia is the Cavaliers' first appearance in the women's top 10.

No conference put more schools in the top 30 than the six from the ACC, including two top-10 squads in FSU and Virginia. Both the Pac-12 and Big Ten were represented by five squads. The Pac-12 put three in the top-10 - more than any other conference - in Oregon, Stanford and Colorado, while the Big Ten had two in Michigan and Michigan State.

The NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships will be held November 23 in Terre Haute, Ind.


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