The Vanderbilt women’s cross country team backed up its No. 3 national ranking and in the process made history.
The Commodores captured their first Southeastern Conference championship on Monday in Maryville, Tenn. Five Vanderbilt runners finished in the top nine for a total of 30 points — way ahead of second-place Arkansas, which had 61 points.
It was the first time since 1989 that a school other than Arkansas, Florida or Tennessee won the title.
“We always said we got to get over the hump. We thought we could this year,” Vanderbilt coach Steve Keith said. “To win our first one with such a performance was very impressive. I thought we could put maybe five in the top 15 and it would be real close with us, Florida and Arkansas. The girls, they ran their race and their race is basically stay together and a strong second half. It was just true to form.”
Alexa Rogers finished second with a time of 20:22.72, just behind Arkansas’ Kristen Gillespie (20:19.84) as both broke the course record at Lambert Acres Golf Course. The race actually was restarted after Rogers went down within the first 100 yards of the 6,000-meter race.
Keith said there was a “crowd control” issue as a couple members of the media were “a couple steps inside the ropes and that forced the team outside of us to come down on us.”
“We got squeezed from both sides and Alexa went down. I’m glad they called it back because you want to have a fair start,” Keith said. “You want allow everyone to go forward and not have to close down to a small point.”
Liz Anderson finished fourth and Jordan White, Louise Hannallah and Kristen Smith placed seventh, eighth and ninth, respectively. It was the second straight conference title for Smith, who transferred from Michigan State after the Spartans captured the Big Ten championship last year.
Rogers, Anderson and White were named to the All-SEC first team, while Hannallah and Smith landed on the second team. Grace Orders, Rebecca Chandler and Amira Joseph finished in the top 30 and earned All-SEC Freshman honors.
Up next for Vanderbilt, which never had finished higher than third in the conference championships, is the NCAA South Regional on Nov. 12 in Tuscaloosa, Ala. To automatically qualify for the national championships, the Commodores will need to be one of the top two teams at its regional. Vanderbilt has never reached that level as a team but is hoping to be crack the top 10 when nationals are held on Nov. 21 in Terre Haute, Ind.
“That would really be breaking some barriers,” Keith said. “First time ever — that would be phenomenal.”