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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Cross Country: Vanderbilt men’s and women’s close out season at SEC Championships; Jensen wins All-SEC honors

In the closing meet of the 2020 season, the Women’s team placed 6th and the Men’s team finished 11th, and the Arkansas Razorbacks took home both the Men’s and Women’s championships.
Nick Laning wins SEC Scholar-Athlete award. (Twitter/@vandyxctrack)

On Friday morning, both the Vanderbilt men’s and women’s cross country teams finished their seasons at the Southeastern Conference (SEC)  Championships at the University Club in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. 

The women’s team finished in sixth place, propelled by Grace Jensen’s 13th place overall finish. The men’s team finished 11th, ahead of Auburn in the team standings, but their point total of 248 was their second best since 1980. 

The women’s six-kilometer race was run first, and the front of the pack was crowded with Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Alabama runners. Mercy Chelangat of Alabama finished first overall with a time of 19:46.5, and Arkansas took home the title with a point total of 41. With the 2020 SEC Championship, the Razorbacks won their eighth consecutive women’s title. 

Junior Grace Jensen led the way for the Commodores, finishing in the top 15 and securing second team All-SEC honors along the way. Jensen started a few spots outside of the top 15, but she gradually worked her way up to 13th place out of 125 runners. 

“Grace really found her form in the last couple of weeks,”Steve Keith, head coach of both the Vanderbilt men’s and women’s teams, said. “The way she was running, I could tell she would be able to hold off anyone, if not catch another person, so it was just a really solid overall race for her.”

Following Jensen for Vanderbilt was senior Gillian Mortimer, who finished 34th and had her best-ever time at an SEC meet at 21:13.9. Freshman Lainey Phelps was the next Commodore to the finish line with a time of 21:32, followed by senior Anna Grace Morgan at 21:36.3.  

On the men’s side, the men’s eight-kilometer race was led nearly the entire time by Ole Miss’ Mario Garcia Romo, Cole Bullock and Waleed Sullivan. They finished first, second, and third respectively, but Ole Miss’ sweep of the top three spots wasn’t enough to hold off Arkansas. Every scoring member of the Razorbacks men’s team finished in the top 20, and they had five finishes in the top ten alone. Arkansas edged out Ole Miss by 24 points to secure the men’s title for the 9th time in 11 years. 

The Vanderbilt men’s team placed 11th in the eight-kilometer race, they achieved one of their best point totals in 40 years. Matthew Estopinal led the Vanderbilt men’s team with a 21st place finish out of 107 runners and a time of 24:35.6, and fellow junior Nick Laning, who received the SEC Men’s Cross Country Scholar-Athlete of the Year award, came behind him in 27th place, finishing at 24:46.4. Senior Caleb van Geffen, who will return next year for his last year of eligibility, placed 63rd, a personal record.

“I do know, up front, this race was a screamer,” Keith said. “That’s something maybe we can prepare for a little bit better, but they fought hard. It wasn’t the race they wanted, but they’re getting a lot of respect around the conference as far as where they are as runners, and those two [Estopinal and Laning] are going to be a real viable pair next year.”

 At the end of a unique and emotional season, Keith is optimistic about what the future holds and what some of the younger runners have learned from their upperclassmen teammates.

“There’s a lot to be proud of there,” Keith said. “Their eyes are wide open; they now see what we talk about and what we’re recruiting them for. There’s going to be a learning curve there, but this was a much better way for them to show their talent as a team.”

 The SEC championships mark the end of the fall cross country season for Vanderbilt, but many members of the team will compete in the spring track season in distance events. The Commodores plan to continue training as they have in the new normal of the pandemic, but a cloud of uncertainty still hovers over the track season due to rising COVID-19 cases and restrictions. 

No matter what the spring brings, the Commodores will be ready.

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About the Contributor
Jack Hollier
Jack Hollier, Former Staff Writer
Jack Hollier (’22) was a Staff Writer for the Sports section of The Vanderbilt Hustler. He has been with The Hustler since the first semester of his sophomore year as a staff writer. He is majoring in economics with a minor in business. Jack is also a staff writer for The Slant. Jack has been a fan of Vanderbilt sports since he was born. When he’s not watching the Commodores, you can find him on the tennis court, in the E.B.I. dining hall or being perpetually disappointed by his hometown Atlanta Falcons. He can be reached at [email protected].
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