Feb. 10, 2012
By Bob Thomas, Seminoles.com
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Their homes are an ocean apart, but their connection – as two of the world’s best 17-year-old middle distance runners – has brought them together as the two final jewels in the 2012 Florida State women’s track & field initial signing class.
New Jersey’s Ajee’ Wilson and Great Britain’s Georgia Peel have shared exactly one track meet together; last July’s IAAF World Youth Games in Lille, France. By late summer this year, they will share the same school colors and the singular focus of becoming the best they can be, and in the process, help propel the Seminoles to NCAA Championship contention.
“These are world-class, world champion and world finalist people,” FSU head coach Bob Braman said. “They’re very, very special. East of Eugene [Oregon], I don’t think anybody has loaded up the cart with two that are going to come right in and make an impact. They may both be their national record-holders before the year is over. And those are distance and middle-distance powers – the US and England.
“If we get nobody else, I think we’re a podium contender on the women’s side right away.”
That was exactly the thought behind Florida State’s pursuit of Wilson and Peel, who have signed their national letters of intent with the Seminoles and will arrive in the fall.
It’s no stretch to consider Wilson and Peel two of the most accomplished track & field athletes FSU has ever signed out of high school. Wilson has a personal-best of 2:02.64 in the 800 meters, which she laid down en route to the gold medal in France. Peel has run 4:16.24 for 1500 meters. Their times in those events – as high school juniors – were swift enough to have been secured third- and fifth-place finish in the 800 and 1500 at the 2011 NCAA Outdoor Championships.
In capturing the gold, Wilson smashed New Jersey’s 32-year-old state record for 800 meters, held by U.S. Olympian and Track & Field Hall of Famer Joetta Clark. Similarly, Peel’s 2009 victory in the 1500 meters (4:16.24) at the English Schools Championship, erased a 30-year-old record by a whopping eight seconds.
Remarkably, neither will celebrate their 18th birthday’s until May.
Landing the prodigious pair is a “great coup for Florida State,” according to esteemed Track and Field News journalist Jon Hendershott .
“Both have great national and international experience,” Hendershott added. “They can come up together as teammates and develop together.”
It should come as no surprise that the pair were drawn to Florida State by women’s distance coach Karen Harvey, who in just five seasons has turned the Seminoles into a national power, both on the track and in cross country. The charismatic Harvey has a proven record for developing talent and also places great emphasis on the team dynamic. Those were selling points for both Wilson and Peel, who had multiple scholarship options from established programs around the country.
“The recruiting process for me was pretty exciting and went really well,” said Wilson, who runs for Neptune (N.J.) High and is a standout student at the Academy of Allied Health and Science. “I am relieved that the process is over now, and I actually know where I’m going.
“On that note, I’m so excited to move onto the next phase of my life at FSU. There were three other schools that I seriously considered, but ultimately, it was the coaches and team dynamic that led me to sign with Florida State.”
Peel, who attends Gordon’s School in Surrey and competes for the Aldershot, Farnham & District Athletics Club, came away from her official visit with a similar feeling.
“Even though it is a very big commitment and big jump in my life, I feel that it is one of the best opportunities I have been given,” Peel said. “I hope to train and live like a professional athlete, as well as being surrounded by people with the same mindset, along with being able to incorporate my studies.
“On my visit I was so impressed with the facilities, the training regimes, and structured organization of coach Harvey’s group,” she added. “Everyone seemed focused with the same goals, with a real team atmosphere and it was a really great atmosphere to be in. Apart from the sporting side, I was also amazed by the academic side of the university and the support given to athletes, especially.”
Harvey, who worked closely with FSU Director of Sprints, Hurdles & Relays Ken Harnden in landing the talented tandem, couldn’t be more excited.
“Ajee’ has a tremendous amount of talent and is fueled by the intense desire to win,” Harvey said. “She has proven to be one of the best middle distance runners in the world. Signing Ajee’ was a total team effort by our staff. Coach Harnden and I will be working together on Ajee’s development as a Seminole.”
Wilson recently demonstrated that competitive fire when, racing against professionals and post-collegians in the 800 at the U.S. Indoor Open at Madison Square Garden, she finished second.
The competitive streak burns brightly in Peel as well. She finished fourth at the World Youth Games in the 1500, battling gamely with the lead pack comprised of two Kenyans and one Ethiopian; two countries whose athletes are currently dominating the world scene from the 1500 meters and up.
“Watching Georgia’s courage and talent at the 2011 World Youth Games was eye-opening,” said Harvey. “When the pack of four broke the field, Georgia went with them. Georgia is following many great UK runners at FSU. Her personal best times and accomplishments have me truly excited about what she can do at the NCAA level.”
Peel will be following the footsteps of Seminoles from the United Kingdom, including NCAA Championship 1500-meter record holder Hannah England, 3000-meter steeplechase and indoor mile All-American Barbara Parker, and currently Hannah Brooks, an All-American in both cross country and the 1500 meters. Susan Kuijken, a seven-time All-American in cross country and track, came to FSU from The Netherlands.
“She’s obviously the real deal and she’s only 17,” Hendershott said of Peel. “Seemingly the rich get richer. I’ve got to believe in Georgia’s case, Hannah England paved the way a little bit and Susan Kuijken. That couldn’t be lost on the athletes. It speaks well for the program and Karen Harvey. Kids are going to see that; kids are going to gravitate to that.”
Yet there’s a significant difference when comparing Peel and Wilson to some of the recent FSU greats under Harvey.
“They are as good as anybody we have ever gotten, statistically,” Braman said. “We’ve had athletes of their level, but not coming in as freshmen. We’ve had the Susan Kuijkens, Barbara Parkers and Hannah Englands come in a little older. All three were collegiate transfers.
“Natalie Hughes, who didn’t have their statistics, was the last freshman superstar we had that came in and scored [at nationals] as a freshman.”
In Wilson’s case, the summer could bring a potential dilemma. Does she attempt to represent the United States at the World Junior Championships in Barcelona, Spain, or head to Eugene, Oregon for the U.S. Olympic Trials? Peel could also be positioned for a spot on Great Britain’s World Junior Championships team, at a time when London will be the epicenter of the track & field world as the Olympic Games host.
Regardless, the future looks extremely promising for both girls, and the Seminoles as well. Not only do Wilson and Peel have the potential to impact the track & field program’s bid to hoist an NCAA Championship trophy, Harvey added local distance standout Carly Thomas, which could aid FSU’s cross country championship hopes down the road as well.
“It’s not easy to sign local talent; trying to convince them to pass up the excitement of leaving home to stay,” Harvey said of Thomas, who won a state cross country championship and helped Chiles High to three team titles. “Carly truly has shown that she chooses to be part of a great program and school, rather than to leave Tallahassee. She had a tremendous senior year in cross country and signing her is big because I consider her one of the best Florida runners I have signed yet.”
Florida State Signee Bios
Ajee’ Wilson, Neptune, N.J. (Academy of Allied Health and Science) – Mid-Distance
One of the finest junior middle distance runners in the world, Wilson was recently named the USATF Youth Athlete of the Year…opened her 2012 indoor season in fast form as she has the nation’s fastest high school times at 600 (1:30.36, No. 9 all-time) and 1,000 meters (2:48.31, No. 10 all-time)…competed at the inaugural U.S. Open at Madison Square Garden recently, finishing second in the 800 field which included professional athletes…closed the 2011 outdoor season ranked No. 9 in the world among Juniors at 800 meters…at July IAAF World Youth Games in Lille, France captured the gold medal with a winning time of 2:02.64…broke the 32-year old New Jersey high school state 800 record, held by U.S. Olympian and Hall of Famer Joetta Clark, in the semifinals at World Youth Games (2:03.17)…enters senior season as one of the most decorated track & field athletes in the rich history of the New Jersey high school ranks…already has nine NJSIAA Group state titles between the 800 and 1600 meters and holds meet records in both events (2:07.28/4:43.92), established as a sophomore in 2010…won the 800 at the 2011 New Balance Indoor Nationals…was 2010 US Junior national champion in the 800 (2:05.75) and finished fifth at World Juniors (2:04.18) the same year…has demonstrated range throughout her career, winning the 2007 AAU Junior Olympics title at 3,000 meters (10:13.41)…in addition to her aforementioned personal-bests, Wilson has run the 400-dash in 54.51 and the mile in 4:49.48.
Georgia Peel, Chobham, Surrey, England (Gordon’s School) – Distance/Mid-Distance
One of the brightest rising stars in the world at 1500 meters, she established a new season-best at the 2011 IAAF World Youth Games in Lille, France, racing to a fourth-place finish in 4:16.36…is the top-ranked U20 1500-meter runner in the United Kingdom…owns a personal-best of 4:16.24 at the metric mile distance…flashed her speed in June over 800 meters with a personal-best 2:05.21 at the BMC Gold Standard in Watford…won the Aviva U20 European Championship at 1500 meters just 10 days later…range exhibited with her participation in the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Punta Umbria, Spain last March…won 27 titles ranging from 400 meters to cross country as a U17 competitor in 2009-10 seasons…represented Great Britain in the inaugural 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, placing sixth in the 1000 meters…2009 season thrust her into the national spotlight as she won the English Schools Championship intermediate girls 1500-meter title in 4:16.24, smashing a 30-year old record by eight seconds…also won the British 1500-meter title and English 800 crown…captured World School Games gold at 1000 meters in Qatar…has an impressive PR of 2:42.24 for 1000 meters, established in 2009…finished the year ranked No. 1 in the country at U17 in the 800 (2:06.20), 1500 (4:16.24) and 3000 (9:23.41)…was honored as Surrey’s Young Sports Personality of the Year in 2010.