Nov. 8, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, Fla.- For the second consecutive year the Florida State women's cross country team has sailed through the regular season without losing to a single opponent. The preliminaries, however, are officially over.
When coach Karen Harvey's top-ranked Seminoles toe the starting line Friday at Apalachee Regional Park for the NCAA South Region meet, their eyes will be affixed on what is ahead and less concerned with the proverbial bulls-eye on the back of their singlets.
Harvey and her runners make no bones about it. They are stalking the program's first national championship. As the two-time defending South Region champions - the `Noles have won four of the last five - Friday morning's 8:30 starting gun signals the next, and most important, step in that plan.
While the top two teams in each of the nine NCAA Region Championships are assured a spot in next week's NCAA Championship field, the Seminoles want to carry the momentum on to Louisville, Ky. with another title in hand.
"I've explained to the girls that this is like the [qualifying] heats at NCAA's," said Harvey, whose team captured its fifth consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference championship two weeks ago. "This is like the first round. We really don't have any idea what other teams are going to do, and we don't have a real set game plan. I think this is going to be a really good learning moment for them, in that they will really have to pay attention to the race. They know the goal."
Though the `Noles are the heavy favorites, they will be challenged by rival Florida, which enters the meet fresh off a Southeastern Conference title and ranked No. 14 nationally. Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Georgia are ranked 3-5 in the South Region, behind the Seminoles and Gators.
In all, 38 programs from Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee will be represented - including 29 full teams - for the two automatic qualifying spots. The top four individual finishers who are not members of those two qualifying teams, will earn their way to the Nov. 17 NCAA Championships meet.
"It's not going to be an all-out brawl like NCAA's," Harvey said. "No one is really going to do that, but we're still going to have to run hard."
And when it comes to running hard, Florida State has the horses for the field to chase. Senior Amanda Winslow is the defending South Region champion, but fellow classmate and co-captain Violah Lagatis coming off an individual title at the ACC Championships. Lagat was third at last year's region meet at Alabama, when the Seminoles raced past the Gators over the final kilometer to post a 1-2-3 finish for the team title.
Sophomore Colleen Quigley, who showed her chops with a victory at the Notre Dame Invitational last month, and was 13th a year ago. Senior Kayleigh Tyerman, who has consistently run in the top three spots for the `Noles this year, was 16th at the region in 2011, while senior Jessica Parrywas 20th. All five earned All-Region honors in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Based on the way her team has been practicing, and how the finishing order among the top five has fluctuated throughout the regular season, Harvey wouldn't be completely surprised to see someone other than Winslow, Lagat or Quigley lead the parade of approximately 200 runners across the finish line.
"We're going to work together as a team and just get the job done," Harvey said. "The order can be anything that it needs to be. The girls know what the goal is on Friday and we're going to complete goal and whatever order it is, is what order it is.
"They're super mature and they really believe in the team goal."
Freshman sensation Georgia Peel, who earned All-ACC honors by finishing 14th as FSU's No. 5 runner, should contend for All-Region honors. Redshirt senior Jennifer Dunn, who has twice narrowly missed All-American honors, is a veteran presence who is coming into her own after an injury-marred start to the season.
Freshman Carly Thomasis set as the Seminoles' eighth and alternate runner.
Harvey did not hesitate with a response when asked if she liked what she had seen from her team leading up to the biggest meet on the course they call home.
"Absolutely," she said. "Everything that we have scripted out and wanted, especially since ACC's, has happened. Practice is so enjoyable and I think the girls would say the same, because they've never been this fit; they've never been this strong. They have this incredible goal and they can see this is an exciting opportunity. I definitely think everything is headed in the right direction."