By Nate Perry, TTU Sports Information
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – After an impressive showing at the Golden Eagle Invitational to open the season, Tennessee Tech cross country will go on the road for the first time in 2018 for the Commodore Classic hosted by Vanderbilt University.
The races will be run on the Vaughn's Gap Cross Country Course at Percy Warner Park outside Nashville, with the men's eight-kilometer race happening first at 9 a.m., followed by the women's 5K at 10 a.m.
With the venue less than an hour and a half from Cookeville, head coach Wayne Angel is excited by the notion of his team being able to compete close to home for the second straight week.
"It's great for our athletes to compete in front of a home crowd again," Angel said. "I can assure you that they are pumped up and ready to represent."
More exciting is the potential that was shown by both of the youthful TTU teams last weekend.
On the women's side, sophomore Purity Sanga and freshmen Janet Kwambai and Sharon Chepkemboi combined for a 1-2-3 finish to spur Tech on to a team victory with just 19 points.
Redshirt sophomore Sammy Kiprkirui won the men's race for Tech and led a platoon of five runners who all finished inside the top 10. Their team score of 29 narrowly missed the No. 1 spot, falling just short to Ohio State's 26.
"Coming off last week's performance at the Putnam County Athletic Complex has definitely motivated these Golden Eagles to step it up a notch or two for the Commodore Classic," Angel said. "It's a big meet that is quickly shaping into one of the most prestigious in the South."
As of Thursday afternoon, 22 women's teams and 20 men's teams are slated to run in the Commodore, a stark contrast to Tech's opener last weekend, which comprised just three teams in the women's race and four in the men's.
As one might expect, the meet's grandeur will be cause for a completely different in-race environment.
"Racing in such a large field is not the same as running at the OVC (Championships) or our home meet," Angel noted. "It's more physical and can mess with your mind if you allow it to. In a race of this size, tactics will play a major role."
A slew of ranked teams headline the men's programs in attendance, starting with Middle Tennessee, which is No. 2 in the South Region, and Big Ten power Illinois, the No. 3 team in the Midwest according to the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association's most recent rankings. Middle Tennessee also cracks the USTFCCCA's National Coaches' Poll at No. 19.
Two other attendees from Nashville, Belmont and Lipscomb, are included in the South rankings as Nos. 7 and 8, respectively. Eastern Kentucky, which has won the last 12 Ohio Valley Conference championships in a row, is ranked eighth in the Southeast Region, while Louisville is 14th.
The women's race features five teams ranked in the South Region: Vanderbilt (No. 7), Southern Miss (No. 10), Lipscomb (No. 12), Middle Tennessee (No. 13) and Belmont (No. 14).
Lipscomb finished second by one point in the Atlantic Sun Championships last year, which ended a streak of six titles in a row from 2011-2016. Southern Miss (Conference USA) and Belmont (OVC) finished as the runners-up at their respective league meets last season.
A pair of top-15 teams from the Great Lakes Region, sixth-ranked Ohio State and No. 11 Xavier, will also compete on the women's side, along with Northern Illinois, which is ranked 11th in the Midwest Region.
Louisville and Eastern Kentucky represent the ranked teams from the Southeast, coming in at No. 6 and No. 7.
Much like their men's team, the Eastern Kentucky women have also dominated the OVC in recent history, having been crowned champions in each of the past six seasons and 11 of the last 12.
While Angel is aware of the numerous blueblood programs that will compete at the Commodore, he is much more concerned with keeping an eye on how the other five OVC teams – Austin Peay, Belmont, EKU, Murray State and Tennessee State – will perform.
"I'm looking forward to seeing how we stack up against our OVC adversaries," he said. "This will be the first time that we will be able to see the talent those teams are working with this season."
"Hopefully we can feed off the momentum of last week's success and come away with a positive experience and without any injuries."
Photo by Thomas Corhern