Oct. 12, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - After an eight-year run at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, Ind., the NCAA Championship will have a new home - the E.P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Ky. - in 2012.
The nationally-ranked Florida State men's and women's cross country teams will get their first peek at the new championship venue Saturday morning as they compete against strong fields in the Pre-Nationals Meet.
Though a number of the nation's powers were racing at Wisconsin Friday, there is no shortage of firepower in either the men's or women's races in Louisville. The 14th-ranked men, coming off a fourth-place finish at the Notre Dame Invitational, will contend with a field that includes No.3 BYU, No. 7 Colorado, No. 12 Villanova, No. 15 Oregon, No. 23 William & Mary in addition to rival Florida and ACC foes Virginia Tech and Duke. Those are the more prominent teams from a field of 39 schools competing in the 8-kilometer race Men's Red race which is scheduled to take the gun at 9:30 a.m.
"We're thinking, quite honestly, anything in the top five is pretty good," said FSU men's coach Bob Braman, who will be without the services of 2011 All-American David Forrester. "It will be interesting to see if we made some headway against Tulsa and cut the margin. I think we will."
Tulsa won the team title at the Notre Dame Invitational two weeks ago. Braman is also anxious to see how his squad will measure up against a Virginia Tech team that many expect will contend for the ACC Championship on its home course in two weeks.
FSU's top-ranked women's team will follow at 10:15 a.m. against a field that is highlighted by three other top 10 teams, including No. 4 Oregon, defending national champion and No. 6 Georgetown and No. 8 Michigan. Colorado (No. 18), Villanova (No. 24) and Butler (No. 25) are also in the field of 40 teams, along with NCAA South Region rival Florida.
Senior co-captain Amanda Winslow, a two-time cross country All-American, is excited about the opportunity to face a deep field on the course where she will complete her outstanding career on Nov. 17. She and the Seminole women have quietly been looking forward to this season since they finished fourth at last year's NCAA Championship, so Saturday's 6-kilometer race against a solid field at the championship venue, will serve several purposes.
"I think we're pretty excited about it," Winslow said of the Pre-National meet. "It's a different course from last year and we knew there are a few mistakes that could be made. ... Notre Dame was not as strong as a team race, but it was still pretty strong up front and we put five in the top 12. If can race like we did there and put them pretty close together as a pack, I think we can compete with the other top teams."
Junior Jakub Zivec, who is crafting a outstanding season to this point, is equally excited to see where he and the `Noles sit on the national stage at this juncture of the season. Zivec was a surprising fourth overall at the Notre Dame Invitational and has every intention of stepping it up a notch Saturday morning.
"If you compare Pre-Nats to Notre Dame, it's going to be much deeper and talented," Zivec said. "We're going to try and step it up a little bit more."
In addition to Zivec, Braman will field a group that includes seniors Breandan O Neill, Wes Rickman, Scott Proctor and Paul Lagno, junior Josh Gracia and freshman Zak Seddon. For all of them, it will mark their first race at Tom Sawyer Park, so gaining some familiarity with the course, which is both flat and narrow in spots, is pivotal.
"Mission No. 1 is the course," Braman said. "Mission No. 2 is the [at-large national] points. There is a bunch to be had if you run solid. If a big race is there for the taking, either individually or team-wise, I hope they take it."
"For me and Brendo [O Neill], we're both training pretty hard and are in pretty good shape," Zivec said. "We're going to go after it pretty hard and see where we're at."
Zivec expects the additional speed work over the past two weeks will help the `Noles better withstand what is expected to be a brisk, early pace, something the team was not quite ready for at Notre Dame two weeks ago.
"Right now we're going to have a second chance to step up and show these guys what we're made of," Zivec said. "We should be able to be with the pack and be able to absorb that first two miles which were fast at Notre Dame.
"Two weeks ago at Notre Dame I didn't really plan anything until the race. The thing that works best for me when I race is when I have nothing to lose. ... I'm trying to do the same thing this weekend and trust my training; trust my coaching."
Winslow is especially excited about the prospects for the Seminole women, whose depth of talent is substantially closer together than it was in 2011, when she was the team's No. 1 runner in all but one race. Winslow has a win already this season, but so does sophomore Colleen Quigley, who captured top honors at the Notre Dame Invitational. Senior co-captain Violah Lagat and Kayleigh Tyerman have also been at the front of the pack, threatening for top honors.
"I know there's something really special going on with this team," Winslow said. "Notre Dame was a really good start but what the results on paper don't show to the rest of the country is what we know as a team and how we've been running as a pack. ...
"I think we all know there's really no pecking order on this team. We're humbled every day in practice. We're constantly switching the order up in practice and I think we'll be doing that in races, too."