TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - For several years now, Florida State’s dominant women’s cross country team was almost mythical in the eyes of the local running community, largely because coach Karen Harvey chose not to race her top-tiered runners at home.
Shortly after the sun cleared the tree-tops Friday morning at Apalachee Regional Park, Harvey unleashed her top-ranked Seminoles on the NCAA South Region Championship field of teams. Suffice to say, the locals now know what they have been missing.
Matching its most dominant performance in NCAA Region history, Florida State overwhelmed the field as senior individual champion Violah Lagat led a 1-2-3 finish by Seminoles. FSU claimed its third consecutive South Region title, and fifth in six years, by a whopping 24-112 margin over runner-up Vanderbilt. The point total matched the Seminoles previous South Region low, set at the 2010 meet.
“It was amazing when we had the crowd going crazy,” said Lagat, who covered the 6-kilometer course in record time (20:06.6). “Going into this race I just wanted to run well, and it was just amazing to have our home crowd cheering for us.”
Lagat hear plenty of cheers and only the footsteps of her teammates, sophomore Colleen Quigley and fellow senior co-captain Amanda Winslow, who chased her across the finish line in 20:12.0 and 20:13.9, respectively. The Seminoles’ dominance didn’t stop with the front-runners, as Kayleigh Tyerman (8th, 20:22.5) and Georgia Peel (10th, 20:25.1) rounded out the FSU scorers.
“This is the best team I’ve ever coached,” Harvey said.
Florida State put seven runners across the finish line before rival Florida managed to get its second runner home, putting to rest any notion that the SEC-champion Gators might surprise the reigning ACC champions. Florida finished a distant fourth, behind SEC rivals Vanderbilt and Georgia.
“We knew everyone was coming here to qualify for [Nationals], so it was not going to be easy,” Harvey said. “You never know, are other teams going to run really hard to win because it’s a pride thing and they want to win, too? But I will tell you right now, our girls decided a long time ago that we are going to win at home and we are going to win for the people of Tallahassee, for Florida State University, for all the fine people that helped build this and sponsor this course.
“They were very focused and I’m going to be honest, with a mile to go I have never seen them look so good. I didn’t need to say anything. They just are really on a mission right now. Honestly, it’s just fun to watch this.”
All seven Seminoles earned USTFCCCA All-Region honors as senior Jessica Parry finished 13th overall (20:30.4) and classmate Jennifer Dunn was 20th (20:38.7). It marked the third consecutive year the Harvey’s squad placed all seven runners in the top 25 at the season’s penultimate event.
Surprisingly enough, it marked the first time that six of the seven ‘Noles had ever raced all-out on the ARP course they call home, though they do practice on the facility with regularity.
“It went just the way we planned,” said Lagat, who backed up her first ACC individual title two weeks ago with her first NCAA Region crown. “We went out easy and not too hard. We felt really good. We’ve done a couple of workouts on this course and we knew when the tough part was coming up.”
The countless hours of side-by-side practice on the course – and the boost received from the partisan home crowd – certainly didn’t hurt.
“We’ve been doing this in practice so I think we were able to just do what we’ve been doing and just run together,” Lagat said of the 1-2-3 sweep. “It was amazing how we were able to finish like that.”
While Harvey will happily hang another regional championship plaque on her wall, she is even more anxious to bring home a one-of-a-kind trophy when the Seminoles travel to Louisville, Ky. for the Nov. 17 NCAA Championship meet.
Florida State has appeared on the podium with top-four NCAA Championship finishes each of the last five years.
“There are two, three other good teams out there that could be feeling and thinking the same things; peaking at the right time and it’s all about peaking,” Harvey said. “To be honest, the way we performed at ACC’s wasn’t the greatest collective effort that I have seen. It’s really made them come even harder and focus more on nationals.
“That is our final goal. We learned a lot last year and we want to apply it this year and run to the best of our ability. I believe the best of our ability can win.”
So does, Lagat.
“This race shows us that we can do it,” she said.