April 2, 2004
Tallahassee, FL – After three persistent seasons of pushing to become one of the top teams in the country, and build a program that remains amongst the best in the nation, fourth-year head coach Bob Braman was at the doorstep of that prophecy in 2003. Florida State concluded the 2002 season with their first trip to the NCAA National Championships – the first team to qualify for the national championship. This season, the Tribe concluded the 2003 campaign with another trip and another first at nationals – a top 20 finish.
The plan throughout the season was to push and learn – push to win in every race and apply what you learned from the last contest. FSU dwarfed a number of its individual and team race finishes. The most important finish from last year was the 28th place mark earned at the 2002 NCAA Cross Country National Championship. In 2003, the Tribe moved up ten spots at nationals to complete the course in 18th place. Important individual finishes included senior Vicky Gill’s national race finish of 15th to 11th and junior Natalie Hughes’ prior season mark of 197th and this year’s 34th.
The Tribe started the season at the Mountaineer Open, finishing second, behind fellow ACC member Wake Forest, in a 44-point effort. With Gill waiting to hear if she was awarded a sixth and final year, Hughes and junior Anne Clinton finished first and second for FSU in times of 18:27 and 18:35.
At the Florida Intercollegiate, the only home meet of the season, Hughes and senior Helen Hofstede took second and third en route to a first-place overall finish (38 points) for the ladies squad. Freshmen Carla Agnew and Heather Clark ran 5K collegiate bests in their second meet of the season, besting their previous times by almost a minute. Clinton finished fifth with a time of 18:21.58 and an 18:36.99 finish was enough for Clark to place seventh. Redshirt junior Rachel Marsh (18:53.51), sophomore Jennifer Gomez
(19:07.81) and Agnew (19:29.44) contributed to the women’s 28-point finish.
At the prestigous Great American Cross Country Festival, the Noles continued their strong performance with a fourth-place finish, defeating ranked opponents Virginia and Duke. Turning in the top performance for the Tribe was Gill as she came in second with a time of 17:07.20. Next across the tape was Hughes in 14th place at 18:15.8, followed by Hofstede as her time of 18:37.30 placed her 22nd. Rounding out the Seminole place winners was Clinton in 27th with a time of 18:44.30 while Marsh crossed the line in 19:16.3 to take 47th.
After two weeks of preparation, the Garnet and Gold traveled to the NCAA Pre-National meet to get accustomed to the course and preview some of the competition they hoped to face again in the upcoming national championships. Heading into the meet, Braman set goals to finish in the top ten. FSU complied with the women placing 10th. Gill posted a third-place finish in the meet in Cedar Falls, Iowa, in a time of 19:56, finishing three seconds behind overall champion Alicia Craig of Stanford University. Hughes finished in 18th place with a time of 20:59 in a group filled with 21 of the nation’s top 30 teams. Hughes improved on last year’s individual finish of 81st place while shaving a minute of her 2002 time. Hofstede and Clark crossed the line third and fourth respectively for the Noles, with Hofstede finishing 82nd overall in a time of 22:06 and Clark posting a 99th place finish in 22:17. Clinton posted a 22:23 mark for 108th place and Gomez recorded a time of 22:58 (150th) leaving Marsh to round out the group in a time of 23:13 and 166th place.
Coming off a strong showing at the pre-nationals, the Noles headed to the ACC Championships in Winston-Salem, N.C., to challenge their record-best finish of fifth. FSU finished fifth, tying a 10-year old mark, Gill ran steadily in the lead pack to finish second in a time of 19:49.5, behind defending national champion North Carolina’s Shalane Flanagan. Hughes finished in a time of 21:34.3 for 24th place. Clinton, crossed the tape in a time of 21:56.3, placing 32nd and Hofstede placed 38th in a time of 22:12.6. Clark (39th, 22:15.4), Marsh (42nd, 22:19.0) and Gomez (46th, 22:51.7) rounded out the scoring for the Noles.
The NCAA South Regionals solidified Florida State’s spot at the national championships. Gill won her first race of the season, the 6K event in a time of 19:48.04, earning her second NCAA South Region Athlete of the Year honor along with a spot on the All-South Region team, comprised of the top 25 runners in the region. For the Seminole women, Hughes finished 11th – receiving a spot on the All- South Region team alongside Clinton (21:43.16, 23rd) and Hofstede (21:44.40, 25th). Marsh finished 33rd crossing the tape in a time of 22:01.07, Clark finished in 58th with a time of 22:37.70 and Gomez posted a 23:05.80 mark to place 79th closing out the top seven for the Tribe.
Heading the national championships hosted in Cedar Falls Iowa, the Noles ran in un-Florida like weather with the temperature holding steady at minus three degrees at the start. Gill and Hughes earned All-America honors completing the 6K course in 20:08.5 and 20:50.1. The team finished 18th overall with 455 points. Hofstede completed the race in a time of 21:20.3 which was good for 89th place, Marsh ran another personal best time of 21:58 to place 156th followed by Clinton who finished in 165th place at 22:06.1.