Nov. 15, 2012
So far this season, the Vanderbilt women's cross country team has run its best when it matters most, putting together a second place finish at the NCAA South Regional to earn an automatic bid to this weekend's NCAA Championships.
Head Coach Steve Keith hopes that continues to be the case at 11:00 a.m. CT on Saturday, November 17, when the gun fires to start the women's 6K race at Louisville's E.P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park.
"Every year is different, but we are probably as healthy and more focused as a group right now than we have been all year," Keith said. "When better to have that than right now?"
Findley is the eldest member of the group and has been one of the most consistent runners for Vanderbilt all season. The Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, native paced the Commodores at the South Regional, finishing ninth with a 6K time of 20:22.6.
Jumper, the SEC Women's Cross Country Freshman of the Year, was just a few seconds behind Findley, finishing in 11th place with a mark of 20:26.9.
Anderson, a Louisville native, made sure she would get to run on her home course at the NCAA Championships by finishing 16th in 20:33.4. The junior just missed All-America honors at last season's meet.
Vanderbilt's scoring at the Regional was rounded out by Allie Scalf (34th/20:59.6) and Amira Joseph (42nd/21:06.7). Jordan White finished right behind Joseph, while Kristen Smith was instrumental in helping the Commodores stay in contention early.
The Commodores have run on the 5K course at Tom Sawyer State Park this season, finishing sixth at the Greater Louisville Classic. Findley led the Commodores with a sixth place finish in a field that included eight of the nation's top 30 teams.
What has enabled Vanderbilt to come on so strong this late in the season? Keith believes it's running as a team.
"We've kind of defined our best way to race," the coach explained. "Our top-three are running inside of ten seconds from each other. We were 45 seconds from one-to-five and we haven't been that all year. We've defined the best way for us to race as a team and we just need to continue working on having that good day for everybody."
Keith also feels knowing the course can be an advantage for the Commodores.
"It's a fast, flat course that will draw a lot of people out real fast," Keith explained. "Hopefully we can get out and get in the mix, but not over-extend ourselves. We still want to run more to our strength, which is more in the middle of the race."
One twist with the Championships is that for the first time all year, teams are expected to run a competitive race on back-to-back weeks. Keith says this week has been as much about recovering from the Regional race as it is preparing for Nationals.
"Recover mentally, emotionally and physically," Keith said. "We had one quasi-workout to keep them in a cycle, but there's nothing you can do but be excited that its only eight days away."
Keith almost seems to prefer the quick turnaround and hopes that, along with some quality time with Anderson's family in Louisville can help the Commodores stay loose.
"We'll have a little cornhole tournament at the Anderson house and give the kids a chance to hang out without being stuck in the hotel," Keith said.
Keith also points out that he is taking a team with experience at the NCAA Championships. Anderson, Joseph, White and Smith all ran at last year's meet, where the Commodores finished sixth.
Smith, who transferred to Vanderbilt from Michigan State, will be competing at the meet for the fourth time in her career. White will be at her third meet, having qualified as an individual two years ago before being joined by her team last season.
All-in-all, Keith is just excited about where the program is now that they have made a return to the NCAA Championships.
"The long term goals of the program are to establish being at nationals," Keith concluded. "It's nice to start a streak."
The meet can be seen live on NCAA.com, starting at 11:00 a.m. CT with the women's race.
VUCommodores.com will provide complete coverage of the meet, or fans can follow the team on Twitter: Follow @VandyXCTrack