It’s too cold outside to be running- which is precisely why the Vanderbilt Commodores are hosting their first meet of the year indoors, the Vanderbilt Invitational (live results here). This year will serve a step up in competitive competition across the team, but it will also be the first time in recent (or distant) memory that the Dores will field a significant sprint squad.
Donnie Young, the Sprints coach at Vanderbilt is pleased with his group. They are young (and yes, pun totally intended) and he gets more talent to train. In addition to Jordan Smith (200m/400m), Taiya Shelby (200m/400m) and Regan Clay (200m/400m), Young has brought in Kaira Brown (200/400m) & Madison Fuller (100/200m).
Referring to his returning sprinters, Young says they, “had their best fall training sessions since being here.” Smith and Shelby are sophomores while Clay is a Junior. They competed last year, but none advanced beyond their opening heats in the championship meets.
“I think the biggest thing is they are learning how to work. These three are primed to have a nice season if we continue to do the right things.” Young isn’t one to effuse praise or tip his hand, so his signal that the women could break out speaks volumes.
He also prioritizes hard work. Track and field isn’t just running, it’s perfecting small movements and repeating them over and over in the most efficient way possible.
As far as the Freshmen are concerned, they come with championship level experience at the High School level. Brown was a two time All State 400m runner in New Jersey, and Fuller was 100m, 200m, and 400m champion in Missouri.
It’s rare that Vanderbilt produces short sprinters. Because of Vanderbilt’s academic reputation, and the outside perception that they just do enough to maintain an athletic department, serious sprinters don’t consider the school.
Additionally, it is not uncommon for Universities to hire a XC coach as the head of both sports, and the emphasis in the TF season is on distance. It’s the efficient and economical way to run non revenue sports.
Yet, Young is following what Steve Keith and Clark Humphries have carved out. Build off the success of one athlete, then recruit a few more. Train them and build success, rinse and repeat.
In the last two years, Young has produced two All Americans in the 800m. The 800m is that nebulous spot where speedy distance runners move down and strong will sprinters move up. (well, really there’s more physiological science and track self selection culture to it, but you get my point).
Usually, he trains up an athlete to really peak in their Junior and Senior season. This year, it is Becca Schulte. She has battled injury during her time at Vanderbilt, but this off season has been her healthiest.
“She’s running some great workouts but more importantly like the others she’s learning how to work. She’s never been this fit , and now that she is training at 100% - I think she’s going to be very happy with the results.”
As understated as ever, you get the feeling that Schulte could follow in the footsteps of Coco Clayton and Jenn Edobi.
Young has parlayed the success of his past All Americans into the shorter sprints. So when he says, they are learning how to train, it’s a good sign. He is training them to be tough and focused to yield the best competitive results.
Just like his athletes, Young has to maximize all his opportunities to have a shot at championships.