Nov. 11, 2011
By Bob Thomas, Seminoles.com
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - It wasn't that long ago that the success of the Florida State cross country programs was measured by its performances at the NCAA South Region, where only the top two teams in the men's and women's races were assured a place at the NCAA Championships.
The FSU men made their first NCAA Championship appearance in 1981, but failed to qualify again until 2003. The FSU women didn't qualify for their first championship appearance until 2002.
Much has changed for the programs under the direction of Bob Braman and Karen Harvey as they prepare for Saturday morning's NCAA South Region Championship at the Harry Pritchett Cross Country Course on the University of Alabama campus. The Seminoles' appearance is now more perfunctory than precarious, when they had to build their seasons around performing at the highest level for the regional championship.
Barring something unforeseen, both Braman's men and Harvey's women appear to have done enough over the course of the season - they have been the No. 1 ranked teams in the USTFCCCA's NCAA South Region from wire to wire in 2011 - to be assured NCAA at-large berths. The men should be on the starting line at the Lavern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, Ind. for the ninth consecutive season and the women for the sixth season in a row on Nov. 21.
"We're not 100 percent sure we're set," said Braman, whose team is vying for a third regional title since 2004. "It looks that way because we have a lot of wins over folks at Notre Dame and a win over Princeton, which should win its region."
Still, tying for fourth place against a watered down Pre-Nationals Meet field has Braman taking a more aggressive approach against a South Region field that includes challengers Florida and Georgia.
"We're going to get after it and we're going to try to win the meet," said Braman, whose men have finished second in the region three of the last four years, but haven't won the title since 2006. "We want to get some momentum going into nationals."
"We're going to treat it a little differently than Karen. We're going to get after it and we're going to try to win the meet. We want to get some momentum going into nationals."
Braman is counting on the bump in distance to 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) to give his team, coming off a second place finish at the ACC Championship, an edge. The FSU men are the only nationally ranked team in the field.
"I like our guys over 10k," he added. "We train for the end of the year. The things we do are directed toward the longer races."
The `Noles will be without junior Wes Rickman, who is being rested as he continues to progress from a calf issue which has limited his training. Rickman's absence will put some added responsibility on sophomore Jakub Zivec and ACC Freshman of the Year AJ del Valle.
Harvey's top-ranked women have the luxury of taking a more relaxed approach to Saturday's 6k (3.7 miles) race, having won the Notre Dame Invitational, Pre-National and ACC championships.
"We did a fairly hard and long workout on Tuesday," Harvey said. "We're not going to the well on Saturday morning. We don't need to and we're not going to. ... We're very lucky in that way.
"Mentally I'm going to challenge. There's going to be a plan, but it's going to be more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge. We also need to come out of the meet 100 percent [healthy]."
The Seminoles' tightly-knit six-pack of Amanda Winslow, Jessica Parry, Hannah Brooks, Violah Lagat, Colleen Quigley and Kayleigh Tyerman will be chased by teammate Aubree Worden in pursuit of their fourth regional title in five years.
Harvey has learned a lot about her team since their romp to the ACC title.
"We've had a couple of workouts, one in particular since ACC, that definitely showed this is a special team; very, very special," Harvey said. "It's one [workout] I've done for four years. They did it and did it better [than other teams].
"I'm really starting to realize this is a very special team with a lot of talent."
The Seminoles will not be without challengers in Tuscaloosa. Southeastern Conference champion Vanderbilt, ranked fourth nationally, in-state rival Florida and Georgia - ranked third and fourth in the region - will be battling for the top spots.
While the top two finishing teams from each of the nine regionals will punch their ticket to nationals, 13 at-large team berths are also on the line, making up the field of 31 in Terre Haute.
As fixtures in that national field, the FSU men and women have designs on extending their impressive streaks.
"We've made it eight years in a row to nationals," said Braman, whose men were NCAA runner-ups in 2010. "Our minimum goal at the beginning of the year was to extend that streak. ... We've got work to do. We don't look like a podium team right now."
Harvey, whose team has finished no worse than third at the NCAA Championships since she arrived in 2007, has her sights on improving on back-to-back runner-up finishes. For the women, the regional meet will provide another step in the season-long process.