Updated: Oct 15, 2022
Following a muddy but successful regular season, Belmont University’s cross-country teams prepare for the highlight of the fall semester: the Ohio Valley Conference championship at the Percy Warner Park home course Saturday.
Among those on the starting line for the Bruins are Kaitlyn Vanderkolk in the women’s race at 9 a.m. and Kevin Vanderkolk in the men’s race at 10 a.m.
“It’s a big race,” said Kevin Vanderkolk, who is in his first season as a Bruin. “A lot of my teammates are telling me that there’s gonna be a lot of Belmont fans there, it’s supposed to be a pretty muddy course and it’s supposed to be fun.”
The Vanderkolks are a pair of freshmen who will compete in their first collegiate conference championship Saturday morning, and they will do it on a course they know well. Hailing from Brentwood, the Tennessee natives decided to come to Belmont for different reasons, but ultimately found the same purpose at the university in running and growing together.
“For me, Belmont’s always been my dream school for music and running,” Kevin Vanderkolk said. “And Kaitlyn and I are pretty close. We talk all the time, so for me, the decision was pretty easy to come to Belmont, and I’m glad Kaitlyn is here too.”
Because of the bond the twins share and the draw of the cross-country programs led by director of cross-country and track and field John Langdon and assistant coach Kate Bucknam, Kaitlyn Vanderkolk committed to the university as well.
“I did look at Belmont because Kevin was looking at Belmont, and it seemed like a right fit with the team,” she said. ”And I’m glad that Kevin is here too because that just makes it fun.”
“We always run together, we ran high school cross country together. I got him into running and he kinda brought me here.”
Unlike her music business major brother, Kaitlyn does not have aspirations in the music industry and took a legal studies path.
Putting school on hold for the weekend, though, in order to focus on the championship, there is much at stake for the Vanderkolks and their respective teams.
This will be their final opportunity to prove their competitiveness in the OVC before their programs move to the Missouri Valley Conference for the 2022-2023 season.
“On the guys’ side of things, we’ve been working all season. It’s been a grind. Everybody’s really focused, everybody’s determined to do well here,” Kevin Vanderkolk said. “Cause all of our training really leads up to this race and we know how much is at stake.”
On the women’s side, the Bruins will have the chance to redeem themselves after coming up short against Eastern Kentucky University, which will not participate this year after moving to the Atlantic Sun Conference.
“I know the girls lost by just 2 points last year, so there’s a lot of excitement coming in this year because we do have a chance to do well,” Kaitlyn Vanderkolk said. “We just have to show up and do what we’re able to do. So everyone’s really excited.”
The twins won’t be the only Bruins crossing the finish line; they will run alongside teammates who encourage them every step of the way at the start of their collegiate cross-country careers.
“My teammates are right there, and that’s been a game changer for me,” Kevin Vanderkolk said. “I love my teammates. I love the energy. It’s been awesome so far.”
His sister feels the same way. Bringing that energy into this weekend’s OVC championship, the women’s team is ready to go out there and leave it all on the course, Kaitlyn said.
“I’m just excited to get to race and prove what we’ve been working for this season,” she said.
Kaitlyn Vanderkolk sprints for the finish line at the 2021 Belmont Opener. Belmont Vision / Jessica Mattsson
PHOTO: Kaitlyn and Kevin Vanderkolk at the Belmont Opener this season. Belmont Vision / Jessica Mattsson.
This article was written by A.J. Wuest.