Nov. 13, 2013
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - When Bob Braman took over the Florida State men's cross country program in 2000 the Seminoles had made exactly one NCAA Championship appearance in school history, way back in 1981.
When the Seminoles step to the starting line Friday morning for the NCAA South Region Championship at the Harry Pritchett Cross Country Course on the University of Alabama campus, they will be trying to preserve their place among elite programs nationally. In the midst of a run of 10 consecutive NCAA Championship appearances - the nation's seventh-longest active streak - the Seminoles will need to put together their best performance of the 2013 season to make it 11 years in a row.
Braman's bunch, which is ranked third in the current USTFCCCA Coaches South Region poll, must finish first or second to extend that streak and earn a return trip to the NCAA Championships next week in Terre Haute, Ind. The Seminoles trail both Florida and Georgia - two programs they easily dispatched at last year's South Region meet in Tallahassee - who are the favorites in the 27-team field.
Getting back to the NCAA Championship was the goal from the very beginning of what has been a season wrecked by injuries and inexperience. Only two returning runners - 2012 All-American and South Region champion Jakub Zivec and sophomore Zak Seddon - were in the lineup a year ago when the `Noles romped to the regional title at Apalachee Regional Park. The veterans have missed much of the season while recovering from injury.
Much of the heavy lifting this season has been left to a group which includes transfers Matt Mizereck, Bryant Blahnik and Kevin Johnson, and returnees Josh Gracia and William Bridges, neither of whom competed at the region meet last season.
"I'm too old to start a new streak," said Braman, who provided his runners with a list of the FSU runners from each of the last 10 seasons who advanced to the NCAA Championship as motivation. "Let's keep this one going."
Zivec, one of the team captains, takes great pride in keeping the streak alive. He is the only member of the squad who has competed in each of the last three NCAA Championships, which has also produced the program's most impressive stretch of finishes as well. As a freshman, the Czech Republic native was a member on the 2010 NCAA runner-up team. The `Noles finished 12th in 2011 and placed fifth at last year's NCAA Championship.
"It's not just important to the coach and for recruiting purposes," Zivec said of the streak. "It's cool to keep the streak going. I believe in my team and I am confident we can make it. The bottom line is even if we didn't have a streak we would want to make it to nationals and perform at our highest."
Throughout the length of the streak, which began in 2003, Braman's teams have excelled as the NCAA Region and Championship race length of 10,000 meters, after racing at 8,000 meters in the regular season.
"I've seen it happen three times already," said Zivec, who has great faith in Braman's training plan. "This will be a fourth time. ... Based on my previous experience, I've seen it happen every time for regionals and nationals. We've had four great workouts from ACC to now and I feel like it's going to make a difference."
The Seminoles are coming off an eighth-place finish at the ACC Championships two weeks ago in Kernersville, N.C.
Coach Karen Harvey's Florida State women's team, ranked fifth nationally and No. 1 in the USTFCCCA South Region poll, is working on a streak of its own. The Seminoles, who won their sixth consecutive ACC Championship two weeks ago, have made seven consecutive NCAA Championship appearances. That is the sixth-longest active streak among Division I women's programs.
Unlike the men's team, Harvey's women are virtually assured of an at-large berth to the NCAA Championship meet on the strength of their season-long resume of victories and strong showings. Still, the `Noles have won three consecutive and five of the last six South Region titles - another streak they would like to continue.
Juniors Colleen Quigley, Hannah Walker and Linden Hall will lead the charge and contend for top individual honors. Teammates Pippa Woolven and Carly Thomas, who along with the lead pack earned All-ACC honors, are joined by Georgia Peel and Anna Holdiman in the Seminole lineup.
From a field of 35 women's teams, Florida State figures to get its stiffest challenge from Vanderbilt and Florida.
Longest current Men's NCAA Championship Appearances
Longest current Women's NCAA Championship Appearances