Aug. 17, 2012
By Bob Thomas, Seminoles.com
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A three-month journey to a new end-of-season destination begins today for the Florida State men's and women's cross country teams. Reporting for the start of their abbreviated preseason, the Seminoles have every reason to look forward to continued success in 2012 with an added twist.
FSU's 10-meet schedule, which should culminate with a trip to E.P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Ky. for the Nov. 17 NCAA Championships, is highlighted by a pair of significant home events.
The Seminoles will play host to the largest cross country meet ever run on Tallahassee soil on Oct. 5-6, when more than 20 colleges and universities will be joined by 100 or more high school programs competing in the FSU Invitational. The two-day affair at Apalachee Regional Park (ARP) - the Seminoles' home course - is expected to draw more than 2,500 runners. Most of those will be descending on the ARP to get a good look at the course which will serve as host to the Nov. 9 NCAA South Regional Cross Country Championship, and eight days later, the Florida High School Athletics Association (FHSAA) State Championship meet.
"The regular season meet is important because some of our kids haven't raced a home meet," FSU head men's coach Bob Braman said. "Whether we race it all out or we race under control, that's a decision to be made by the coach on race day. You'll see more teams coming in because they have not seen the course. ... And oh, by the way, there will be 2,500 high school kids running the next day, so they'll get to see what kind of team we have the night before.
"It couldn't set up any better. It's probably our best schedule ever. You couldn't write it any better unless the national meet was here."
In addition to the FSU Invitational serving as both the Pre-Regional and Pre-State meet, the NCAA South Regional will mark the most important collegiate meet ever contested locally, with the top two men's and women's teams securing trips to the NCAA Championship.
Ultimately, that's the final destination for both Seminole programs, which are riding lengthy streaks of NCAA Championship participation. The FSU men have qualified for nine consecutive NCAA Championships - one of only seven programs nationally that can make that claim. The Florida State women, who have finished on the podium (top four teams) at nationals for five consecutive years, have made six consecutive championship meet appearances.
Partnering with Leon County and the Gulf Winds Track Club, Florida State has made a significant investment into turning the ARP into one of the nations' finest cross country venues. By hosting an NCAA Regional, FSU is setting itself up to ultimately achieve its long-range plan - brining the NCAA Championship to town.
"It has been incredible," FSU women's coach Karen Harvey said of the course improvements that have been made at the ARP. "I hope this is something that Tallahassee and the running community can be really proud of. I hope that the community is going to come out and cheer for us to qualify for nationals at home.
"I've talked to parents and girls on the team and they are pumped because we finally get to showcase ourselves at home, in a big meet and it's a rare thing in our sport."
There are other rarities the `Noles will encounter during their upcoming season, which opens Aug. 31 with the annual retreat to Boone, N.C. and the Covered Bridge Invitational. Both teams will make the first of two trips in 2012 to Blacksburg, Va. for the Sept. 14 Virginia Tech Invitational, which will serve as the Pre-ACC meet. They will return on Oct. 27 for the ACC Championship.
"This is a year where the Pre-ACC and the Pre-National take on an added importance," Braman said. "Every year we like to go on the road and go to where the ACC, Regionals and Nationals are. ... This year it's going to be extraordinarily important that we get to Louisville and get to know that course so we're ready for nationals. The Pre-ACC is at Virginia Tech and they have not hosted the conference championship since we've been in it."
Two weeks after the initial trip to Virginia Tech, Braman and Harvey will step on the throttle and cut their teams loose for the first time in an all-out effort at the Notre Dame Invitational on Sept. 28 in South Bend, Ind.
Braman described it as a "major point-gathering meet" where both FSU squads will try and pick off as many nationally-ranked squads as possible in an effort to solidify their position as an NCAA Championship qualifier.
After returning home for the FSU Invitational, where the women and men will compete over 6- and 8-kilometer courses, respectively, they will begin preparation for the Pre-National meet at Louisville.
"Changing the home meet to 6k is a must," Harvey said. "Let's have a dry run through on how the course is, how it works. They're coming to our home meet to run on the NCAA Regional course. That's why we've changed it to six kilometers."
The University of Louisville, which will host its first NCAA Championship meet at the end of the year, will take a similar approach when it brings in a large field for the Oct. 13 Pre-National meet. By all accounts, the E.P. "Tom" Brown State Park course is expected to be exceptionally fast, which provides a potentially stark contrast to the ACC Championship course at Virginia Tech.
"I've got two different monsters," Harvey said, explaining the differences between the ACC and NCAA venues. "Virginia Tech that is very tough. It's got a good number of hills, is sneakily tough and you've got very rough footing. Then you've got the race course in Louisville. If it's not muddy it's going to be lightning fast." That contrast will require a different approach in preparation for both programs, which have grown accustomed to posting strong finishes at Indiana State - site of the last eight NCAA Championship meets.
"I see this as new challenge and something new for the kids," Harvey said. "We'll be creative with it. I'm excited to go to Louisville."
The ACC Championship meet follows on Oct. 27 where the `Noles are annually in the title hunt. FSU's women have brought home the last five championship trophies, while the men won the 2010 crown and have five runner-up finishes in the last nine years. Then it's back home for the penultimate NCAA event as Florida State plays host to the South Regional for the first time.
"That's huge," Braman said of the hosting opportunity. "It used to be nine days and now you're eight days away from the national meet. You don't want to go on the road. ... You get to sleep in your own bed. Hosting a regional meet is a huge priority. It's a national qualifier; a home crowd. It's going to be a neat deal. I think it's a big deal to host it. You want to get through the regional meet and be ready for the national meet."
Florida State 2012 Cross Country Schedule