Tallahassee, FL - A pair of top 10 preseason national rankings provide the Florida State men’s and women’s cross country teams with a jumping off point at the start of the 2012 season.
The Seminole women, coach by Karen Harvey, will open the new campaign Friday at Appalachian State’s Covered Bridge Invitational exactly where they closed out their impressive 2011 season – at No. 4 in the United States Track & Field Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) poll.
Coach Bob Braman’s FSU men, who finished 12th a year ago at the NCAA Cross Country Championships, check in at No. 10 in the preseason poll.
Both squads were selected No. 1 in the USTFCCCA Preseason NCAA South Regional poll, which will be hosted by Florida State on Nov. 9. The Seminole men and women are the defending regional champions.
“That’s probably about right,” Braman said, after the ‘Noles earned their second-highest preseason ranking in program history. “This is really going to be a different year. We looked at the graduation of the first 50 finishers at the (2011) NCAA Championship and it was something like 70 percent. David Forrester, is the fifth-fastest returner at 16th place, and you have new folks. It’s going to be a different year. We don’t know that we’re any better than last year. We don’t know if we’re good enough to be the team we were two years ago. …
“Against this group, 10th seems about right, but we’ve got a long, long way to go and that’s about as high as we’d want to be ranked about now. We want to earn our spot and finish fast like we have the last couple years.”
Defending national champion Wisconsin is the preseason No. 1 squad, followed by Oklahoma State, BYU, Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas, Portland, Iona, Stanford and the Seminoles, who are the top-ranked ACC team. Defending ACC champion NC State is ranked 11th.
In addition to Forrester, the ‘Noles also welcome back seniors Wes Rickman and Breandan O Neill and junior Jakub Zivec.
While the uncertainties the FSU men face stem from a heavy influx of new athletes, Harvey’s veteran squad is taking a more pragmatic approach to the new season. The FSU women return six of their top seven runners from last year’s team, which did not lose a meet with its front-line runners competing until finishing fourth at the NCAA Championship.
"Right now I would like our team to focus on being consistent in the classroom and in training,” said Harvey, whose program has been ranked no lower that sixth for five consecutive years in the preseason poll. “The focus will not be on the rankings. Every year we strive to be our best through hard work and persistency."
It’s a methodology which has worked quite nicely for Harvey’s squad, which has not finished worse than fourth at the NCAA Championship meet for five consecutive years.
The Seminole women trail top-ranked Oregon, Washington and defending national champion Georgetown, but only 11 points separate the FSU women from the top spot.
Four seniors – co-captains Amanda Winslow and Violah Lagat, along with Jessica Parry and Kayleigh Tyerman – lead the way this time around.
Friday’s Covered Bridge Invitational races – a 5-kilometer for the women and an 8-kilometer for the men - are just one element of the extended Labor Day weekend trip for the Seminoles. The two teams will stay in a rustic lodge that serves as home to Zap Fitness, a training center for elite distance athletes, while also making the most of the trails in the North Carolina mountains and the cooler climate.
It has been an annual getaway for the ‘Noles since Braman took over the program.
“The kids love this weekend,” Braman said. “This is a big deal for them. Normally we’re just dying right now. Basically we’re going to have two weeks together just like football and the rest of the teams. … This is a nice chance for the kids to get away. You’re on the side of a mountain, literally. We’re in the lodge that sounds sexier than it is. We’re in a secluded place and nine out of 10 cellphones don’t work. There’s no TV. This is old school camp.”
In all, 13 men and 11 women will be making the trek; runners that are contending for spots in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship lineup for both genders.
“You train hard and do a lot of bonding,” Braman added. “The race isn’t a negative. I look at the race as a positive. You get a little excited. Instead of beating each other you’re going to race and North Carolina is going to be there with their new coach, Mark Van Alstyne. East Tennessee is there with George Watts, who used to be the coach at Tennessee. Wake Forest is going to be there. … It’s a good race.
“It’s our favorite five days that we get up there. You usually come out of it with a lot of excitement and enthusiasm for the season, which can be quite long. And sometimes you’re coming back to a long, hot, September. This is extraordinarily important to our kids to launch their season.”