Track and Field: Vanderbilt struggles against stiff competition at SEC Championships

Despite some strong individual performances, the Commodores were unable to register any team points.

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Vanderbilt track and field competed at the Southeastern Conference Championships May 13-15. (Twitter/@vandyxctrack).

Kavi Jakes, Sports Copy Editor

The Vanderbilt women’s track and field team competed at the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Championships, hosted by Texas A&M, from May 13 to 15. The Commodores finished last, unable to tally team points in any event. Meanwhile, Arkansas, Louisiana State and Alabama finished first, second and third, respectively, in the women’s division.

While the result was disappointing, the Commodores were up against some of the best teams in the nation. Head coach Steve Keith pointed out that Vanderbilt’s team score did not provide a full picture of the athletes’ performances.

“The SEC meet [is] the most challenging meet in the country every year. I mean, I thought we competed hard,” Keith said. “We [came] up a little short and it’s not any reflection on the women. To finish ninth or tenth or 11th [in an event] is still quite an accomplishment, but just doesn’t score.”

A highlight of the meet was junior Grace Jensen’s performance in the 1,500-meter race. Jensen placed sixth with a time of 4:18.75 in the preliminaries, finishing ahead of teammates Lainey Phelps (4:30.20), Haley Walker (4:32.79) and Anna Grace Morgan (4:54.55), who placed 18th, 21st and 26th, respectively. Jensen’s time in Friday’s preliminaries qualified her for Saturday’s finals, where she ran a time of 4:21.37 for a tenth-place finish.

Another strong showing came from senior Regan Clay. Though she was unable to qualify for the finals, Clay posted a personal-best time of 1:02.29 in the 400-meter hurdles preliminaries to finish 17th.

In the 100-meter race preliminaries, freshman Haley Bishop ran 11.75 to finish 12th, while sophomore Madison Fuller placed 17th with a time of 11.96. Bishop also competed in the 200-meter race preliminaries, running 24.15 to place 18th. 

Bishop and Fuller nearly qualified for the finals in the 100-meter race and Keith suggested that the close call will fuel the runners in the future.

“I think that gives them a lot more motivation because they were only a couple places out of advancing,” Keith said.

In the 400-meter race preliminaries, junior Taiya Shelby was the fastest Commodore, running 52.77 to finish 11th. Sophomore Kaira Brown (55.93) and junior Jordan Smith (58.00) placed behind Shelby at 24th and 26th. 

Freshman Nicole Anderson and senior Emily Cohen represented Vanderbilt in the 800-meter race preliminaries. Anderson finished 18th with a time of 2:11.91 while Cohen placed 26th at 2:17.82.

In the 5,000-meter race, senior Gillian Mortimer placed 20th with a time of 17:07.30. Sophomores Niki Narayani and Caroline Eck ran times of 17:53.89 and 17:55.01 to finish back-to-back at 32nd and 33rd.

Brown, Fuller, Shelby and Smith made up the Vanderbilt team for the 4×400-meter relay. They combined to run a time of 3:39.91, good for tenth place.

In the field events, sophomore Madison Murray placed 15th in the javelin competition with a throw of 39.56 meters. Sophomore Jada Sims finished 13th in the high jump after jumping 1.70 meters.

Sims also competed in the heptathlon alongside fellow sophomore Josephine Dal. Sims placed 11th while Dal placed 15th.

Next week, a select group of Commodores will go to the NCAA East Regional in Jacksonville to compete from May 26 to 29, where they will look to qualify for the NCAA Championships. The list of participating athletes will be released on Thursday. Keith noted that some Vanderbilt athletes have already secured their spots.

“Guaranteed right now would be Madison in the 100 [meter race], Taiya in the 400, Grace in the 1,500 and then the 4 by 400 [team],” Keith said.

While some Commodores have secured spots, a number of Commodores are on the edge of making the meet. A little bit of good fortune will need to fall their way in order to be on the East list.

“We could have eight entries. It just depends on declarations,” Keith said. “We hope that we’ve got as many as eight entries and seven athletes with those entries.”