Photo by Brighton Kamen

At the beginning of the spring season, the luminaries at the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (conveniently abbreviated USTFCCCA) ranked the top teams in the country. At the top for both the men and women were powerhouses such as Oregon, LSU, Florida and the University of Georgia.

Finding the Jackets is a bit more difficult. The men ranked No. 123 of 143 eligible programs, looking up at the likes of Northwestern State, Florida International and Northern Arizona. The women placed a more respectable but nonetheless nondescript No. 46, lagging behind conference foes such as Miami (No. 14) and Clemson (No. 27).

Two weeks later, little has changed, if the USTFCCCA is to be believed. The men have moved up slightly to No. 121, and the women have dropped to No. 53. Yet results from the Vanderbilt Invitational, held this past weekend, reflect a team trending upward.

Tech faced off against two top 25 teams, and many individuals shined brightly. At the Commodore Invitational the previous weekend, the Jackets had 10 career best performances against four top 25 teams. At the Vanderbilt Invitational, 15 new career best marks were broken. On a week-to-week basis, the Jackets are steadily and surely improving.

On the first day of the Invitational, four women had career best performances in their respective events. Carissa Tipler, a senior, had her best ever finish in the long jump, posting a score of 6.01m. Meanwhile, many younger members of the team improved on their best times as well. In the 200-meter event, sophomore Dasia Smith (26.73 seconds) and freshman Denise Woode (25.48 seconds) improved on previous performances. Woode also broke her own record in the 400-meter event. Another freshman, Briana Hayden, managed to finish just a hair faster than her peers in the 200-meter event, posting a career best time of 25.03 seconds.

The women also finished strong in the hurdles. Senior Kenya Collins was in the top five again, as has been the norm for her at every meet so far this season, finishing in third in the 60-meter hurdles. Joining her in the hurdles and recording their own personal best times in the 60-meter event were Raven Stewart and Marinice Bauman. In the 3000-meter, Mary Prouty and Courtney Naser had personal best times as well. Freshman Jeanine Williams rounded out a day of firsts with her collegiate debut in the 60-meter dash.

The men had solid finishes of their own as well at the Invitational, particularly in the 3000-meter. Leading the way was sophomore distance runner Christian Bowles, whose time of 18:17.62 was good for a first place in the event. Meanwhile, junior Tanner Shaw and sophomores Matt McBrien, Ryan Peck and Mitchell Sanders posted their own career best times in the same event.

The 800-meter followed a similar theme. Veteran Andres Littig finished second with a time of 1:50.04, and freshman Bennett Hillier followed up that performance with a career-best time of 1:54.95. Other career-best times came in the 400-meter from sophomore Lionel Jones and freshman Dwayne Watkins as well as a sixth-place finish for junior Andres Ward in the 60-meter hurdles. Like the women, the men look to be improving at a very opportune time. The schedule for both the men’s and women’s teams is packed with meets every week for at least the next month.

As for men’s coach Grover Hinsdale and women’s coach Alan Drosky, their focus now turns to the Bob Pollock Invitational in Clemson, S.C.

“We still have work to do, but I am pleased with the progress we’re making each week,” Hinsdale said, courtesy of ramblinwreck.com.

If this level of success is sustained, the Jackets’ track and field team’s rankings on the national stage will improve in time.