Sure, there has been exactly one SEC victory between the football and basketball programs over the last year. And yes, the basketball team lost one important streak and set a new record in a rather dubious one. Of course our AD resigned with swirling rumors about financial mismanagement- after running a minor league for one of the most important sports leagues on the planet.
But sometimes you have to dig deep and look at the good stuff going on. That’s right, I’m talking about Vanderbilt Track and Field. I tend to love track, not because it was my first sport or because I was a track athlete in college or coached it for a decade. I love track because your body is your instrument and there is no one else to blame but yourself.
Track is hard. Training for track is hard. You can only run so much. It’s not like the ball sports where you get fit to then learn a skill. In track your skill is fitness. And then it is doing that fitness with the most efficiency as possible while wondering if everyone else is as tired/working as hard/sleeping as little as you are. Then you get on the track and run your ass off and four people finish in front of you and you kind of wonder what you’re doing, but you repeat the cycle week after week, month after month.
That’s track and field. You’ve got to be an absolute mental giant to earn just one iota of improvement.
This week at the Charlie Thomas Invitational hosted by aTm, the Dores will face off with a variety of opponents from the middle of the country and out west: Texas A&M, Arkansas (W), Arkansas Little Rock, Central Florida, Cincinnati, Georgia Tech, Houston, Rice, South Plains, Texas, UT-Arlington, UT-San Antonio, TCU, Vanderbilt, Washington State.
It’s a good mix of smaller schools with good athletes and big powerhouses that are conference and nationally important.
Let’s talk events.
Naturally Kristen Denk is the front runner here. She has had a tame indoor season, but I’d expect her participation and execution to progressively ramp up. Her indoor arc will stretch to NCAA’s, so she needs quality meets in February before taking off a week before SEC’s in early March.
Margaret Ollinger is the other senior to watch. She’s been knocking on that 13’ door for a while. I don’t know if she has the consistency but she has the ceiling.
Jada Simms is a freshman out of Phoenix. She is a multi eventer, but she’ll high jump a little here and there as well as long jump. In the HJ, she is No. 10 on the school record list with 5’5”. That’s not great, but it does mean that if she tacks on another inch-inch and a half this year, she will be a good Multi eventer and even have a long term plan to become a very good high jumper.
The Youth movement is strong here. Jordan Smith and Kaira Brown have had nice indoor seasons, both winning their heats in the 200m and 400m in the last two meets. Reagan Clay also has put together a nice indoor campaign running on the 400m leg on DMR relays that won the meet.
Regan Bustamante, Ana Wallace, Grace Jensen, Haley Walker, Lauren Moffett, and Becca Schulte are you picks to click.
Bustamante and Walker are legitimate National Contenders in the 800m. Both have performed well thus far this season running 2:10 and 2:11 respectively. But in the 800m the margins are razor thin. Consider them in the Denk Zone- the progression where great athletes have train and progress according to the national schedule instead of the regular season.
Wallace, Jensen, and Moffet are milers that have started really well. Jensen and Moffett went under 5:00 last meet. That’s not enough on its face to make a dent in the conference level, but milers drop times like it’s their job through the season.
And the dirty little secret about the mile is, you just have to qualify. Once you get into the conference final or the NCAA’s, it’s usually a jog and kick. Everyone jockeys for 1200m then they open things up to see who can out sprint the other person.
February will be important for this squad to get their qualifying marks.