Oct. 29, 2011
By Bob Thomas, Seminoles.com
CLEMSON, S.C. - In one of the most dominant performances in Atlantic Coast Conference history, Karen Harvey's top-ranked Florida State women placed six runners in the top 10 en route to a fourth consecutive league championship Saturday at Musser Farms.
Amanda Winslow led the charge with a runner-up finish, covering the 6-kilometer course in 20:12.3. The junior co-captain was followed immediately by four teammates - Hannah Brooks, Jessica Parry, Violah Lagat and Colleen Quigley - as the Seminoles totaled just 20 points, matching the ACC record set by Duke in 2005.
With an eye on an individual title, Winslow set the tone for the Seminoles, by taking the early pace out with North Carolina's Kendra Schaaf. It was a two-woman race by the two-mile mark, with the quartet of Brooks, Parry, Lagat and Quigley, leading a second pack through the rolling peach grove. Schaaf broke contact with Winslow with about a mile to go, eventually claiming top individual honors in 19:45.3.
"That was my goal - to run for the win," Winslow said, afterward. "I knew there was a chance that what exactly happened, might happen. I could hear the announcer saying that all of our girls were so many meters behind. I wanted to be close up to Kendra, but at the same time, I wanted them [FSU's pack] to run well."
FSU's first five runners were separated by just 20 seconds; an impressive feat given that five ACC teams entered the meet ranked in the Top 30 nationally. Close behind was Kayleigh Tyerman, who finished 10th in 20:41.4. All six earned All-ACC honors; the second-most in conference championship history behind Duke's seven in 2005. As an added bonus, Quigley earned ACC Rookie of the Year honors as the top-finishing freshman.
The Seminoles' 59-point victory over runner-up Boston College came in response to Harvey's pre-race challenge.
"If anyone was to look at the score and not understand what we're trying to do at the end of the season, they'd go, `Wow. That's almost like sweeping,'" Harvey said. "I told the girls last night that winning was not going to be good enough. ... It was all about challenging ourselves so that we can continue to get better for November 22."
That's the day the Seminoles will try and improve on consecutive NCAA Championship runner-up performances at the 2011 finale in Terre Haute, Ind.
"It looked impressive and it was fun," said Parry. "Being back in the pack with the girls, we were looking ahead to Amanda the whole race. We saw her get dropped a little bit by Kendra and we said, `Come on guys, let's go help Amanda.' We were working toward her. We settled a little too much with about a mile to go. I think that's a big area where we can improve, because we work out together, so we should be racing together.
"I think there's a lot more to come, but that was a good start to our championship season."
Braman didn't have quite the same feeling about his men's team, which came up four points shy of successfully defending its 2010 ACC championship. The Seminoles were dethroned by NC State, 51-55, on the strength of a 1-2 finish by the Wolfpack and second wave of five runners who raced across the finish line ahead of FSU's fifth runner.
Like Winslow, FSU senior Mike Fout and junior David Forrester were determined to make a run at top individual honors. They did that by pushing the pace among a leading pack of six runners, which included eventual champion Ryan Hill and runner-up Andrew Colley, both from NC State.
"I'm not hanging my head about it individually," said Fout, who posted his best ACC Championship performance by finishing fourth in 23:11.2. "It was a battle. It was an honest race and the whole front group was really going after it. ... We weren't going to give it away. We had four in the top 11 and that's not an easy thing to do, especially at ACC Championships. We are training for the end of November. Nationals is always our goal and this is a nice stepping stone."
Forrester was fifth (23:13.5), but no less disappointed by the 51-55 loss to NC State.
"It was a true run race," Forrester said. "Me and Fout tried to win it. ... We weren't trying to stay and kick people like a few other guys in the top five."
Like his teammates and Braman, Forrester realizes the greater stakes are just a few weeks in the offing.
"We're aiming for November," Forrester said. "Today, maybe, we got called out a bit. It's disappointing, the fact that we didn't win. It's a bitter pill to swallow, knowing we're not going to be the top team on the podium. It hurts a lot, especially seeing the NC State guys go 1-2 and me and Fout know we're more than good enough to do that.
"November is the end game. ACC is a lovely thing to win - we're devastated we didn't win it - but AJ had a great race. Seth had a great race. Breandan had a great race. The pieces of the puzzle are coming together. As a team, we feel a lot better than we did after Pre-Nats."
Breandan O Neill and Seth Proctor paired up to finish 12th and 13th, in 23:45.7 and 23:47.4, respectively. Freshman AJ del Valle was FSU's No. 5 runner, finishing 21st (24:06.9) overall, securing Saturday's sweep of the ACC Rookie of the Year honors.
"I thought we competed really, really hard," Braman said. "Dave and Mike, I think, are a little bit disappointed. They feel like they had a better shot to get in there and win, and they feel disappointed that they couldn't break up [NC State's] No. 2 guy and it might have put us in a chance to win or tie. ...
"For the most part, we gave a really good effort and came up four points short."
Despite del Valle's breakthrough performance, the Seminoles were ultimately undone when junior co-captain Wes Rickman's ongoing leg troubles left him at less than 100 percent. Rickman, an All-ACC performer in 2010, gutted out a 25th-place finish. Sophomore Jakub Zivec was not as fortunate, giving in to a tight back with about a mile to go in the 8-kilometer race. A year ago, Zivec was 11th, earning Rookie of the Year honors, just as Rickman did in 2009.
At full strength, either or both runners would have helped fill the 12-second gap between seventh and eighth place, which would have been enough to pick up the championship trophy for a second consecutive year.
With two weeks of training separating the Seminoles from the NCAA South Region meet in Tuscaloosa - the NCAA Championship race comes nine days later - both Braman and Harvey have time to sharpen their respective teams.
"I think they're all making me wait for Nov. 22 to put it all together," said Harvey, who could have been speaking for Braman as well. "We've done that before. We've waited. That's what I'm hoping for and that will be our day."