The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

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.

2023 Season Preview: Vanderbilt Cross Country

Steady improvement is the objective for a program still looking to establish itself as a legitimate competitor in the SEC.
Vanderbilt Athletics
Caroline Eck enters 2023 as the longest-tenured member of Vanderbilt Cross Country (Vanderbilt Athletics).

Vanderbilt students face a litany of challenges when returning to campus each fall. The weather is inhospitable to human life. Construction makes it impossible to efficiently navigate campus. Morning classes and treks to Peabody and Commons compound the misery. But, while regular students have it bad, nobody is more exposed to the weather, long-distance voyages and early morning wakeups than a cross country athlete.

Practice begins at 6 a.m. CDT for members of Althea Thomas’s program. Now in the third year of her tenure, Thomas is still looking to transform the Commodores into a power to be respected in the Southeastern Conference. As evidenced by the last two years, this is no easy task.

In her first year at the helm, Vanderbilt demonstrated an ability to rapidly improve as both the men’s and women’s teams performed well in the regular season and the women concluded the year with an impressive sixth-place finish at the NCAA South Regional. While the momentum held in the early part of the 2022 campaign, the Commodores fell apart as they faced stiffer competition later in the season. At the SEC Championship, the women finished ninth out of 14 schools while the men ended tied for last alongside LSU.

Rather than set an impossible bar or demand her athletes immediately rise to the top, Thomas has her sights set on something more attainable: steady improvement.

“Our goal this year is to build on what we did last season,” Thomas told The Hustler.

The mortal enemy of the Commodores last season: consistency.

“We showed a lot of good sparks where we had individuals perform very well at various meets,” Thomas said. “When it came to the two meets that we really emphasize — the SEC Championship and the Regional Championship — we were not as consistent across the board.”

To lock in strong performances from September to November, the coaching staff will look to the top of the roster where the women’s team returned almost all of its top performers from last season. Caroline Eck enters 2023 as a super senior spending a remarkable fifth year with the Commodore program.

“[Eck] definitely stands out [as a leader],” Thomas said. “Along with Jenna Holland and Ella Lambert, you’re going to see some great leadership.”

Holland returns to the program for her fourth season as a veteran of the Udonis Haslem variety. Lambert, a junior, finished fifth for the Commodore women at the 2022 SEC Championships but improved to third at the NCAA South Regional. Sophomore Audrey Allman will also look to build upon a stellar freshman year that saw her finish third for the Commodores at the SEC Championships and compete at the U20 Pan American Championships for track and field.

By contrast, the men’s team will be at a considerably earlier stage in their development during the 2023 campaign. Out of 14 rostered student-athletes, Mathew Ragsdale is the only senior. Max Hughes and Andrew Pahnke will look to inject veteran leadership into the team as graduate transfers from Rochester and Emory, respectively; however, they’ll be just as new to the program and the Thomas regime as the freshmen.

Among the freshmen of note are Jack DesRoches and Jackson Scruggs. DesRoches finished as a runner-up at both the 2022 and 2023 Louisiana State Championships while Scruggs competed on Georgia state championship teams for both cross country and track and field.

“They [the freshmen] come in with some pride,” Thomas said. “They’re a large group and they come with some intention.”

The team can begin to convert those intentions into a reality at the Belmont Opener on Sept. 1 and the Mountain Dew Invitational in Gainesville, Fla. on Sept. 15. After a week off, they’ll head to South Bend, Ind. for the Joe Piane Invitational followed by the conclusion of the regular season at the XC 23 Invitational hosted by the University of Virginia on Oct. 14. This year’s SEC Championships will be hosted in Columbia, S.C. on Oct. 27 followed by the NCAA South Regional back in Gainesville on Nov. 10. Should the Commodores qualify, the NCAA Championship will also be held in Gainesville on Nov. 17.

Even the freshmen should expect to receive opportunities as early as the Belmont Opener. 

“The great thing about cross country and track and field is you learn by doing,” Thomas said. “It’s not like putting a freshman quarterback in when he’s not developed.”

Between decorated freshmen, in-house developments and accomplished graduate transfers, Vanderbilt has enough talent on its roster to pose a threat in the SEC both this season and beyond. Whether that talent is properly developed into a winning program, only time and results will tell.

“We have definitely elevated the talent level — the physical and the mental and the emotional talent,” Thomas said. “How soon that potential materializes itself, no one knows.”

Leave a comment
About the Contributor
Jayce Pollard
Jayce Pollard, Non-revenue Sports Specialist
Jayce Pollard (‘25) is a student in the College of Arts and Science majoring in public policy and economics and minoring in data science and Spanish. Outside of writing for The Hustler, you can catch Jayce trying to learn the rules of soccer, hating on the Arkansas Razorbacks and being chronically on Twitter. He can be reached at [email protected]
More to Discover

Comments (0)

The Vanderbilt Hustler welcomes and encourages readers to engage with content and express opinions through the comment sections on our website and social media platforms. The Hustler reserves the right to remove comments that contain vulgarity, hate speech, personal attacks or that appear to be spam, commercial promotion or impersonation. The comment sections are moderated by our Editor-in-Chief, Rachael Perrotta, and our Social Media Director, Chloe Postlewaite. You can reach them at [email protected] and [email protected].
All The Vanderbilt Hustler picks Reader picks Sort: Newest
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments