May 24, 2002
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. –
You know when she is in the room. By any means could you not notice her. The singing and dancing encompassed with her liveliness and bright smile. You see, Florida State freshman track star Natalie Hughes has a lot to be happy about these days. Not only did she run the third fastest 1,500 meters in school history, but she also locked up a provisional qualifying spot to the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Baton Rouge, La. on May 29-June1.
Natalie’s time of 4:19.69 on May 10 at the Cardinal Qualifying Meet in Stanford, Calif., was not only the 13th fastest mark in the nation, but it also gave her the prestigious distinction of being the fastest freshman in the nation for the 1,500 meters. She joins teammate Lacy Jason, who is the nation’s top freshman in the pole vault and owns the Atlantic Coast Conference record at 14 feet. The duo makes FSU one of only five schools to boast two or more top freshmen in the nation. But Natalie is quick to take the accolade in stride.
“It’s exciting [being the top freshman],” said Natalie. “But you’re always looking over your shoulder thinking there are people out there better than me. Now in college it doesn’t matter if you’re freshman or fifth-year senior, we’re competing on the same line. So when you step up to the line it doesn’t matter if you’re the fastest freshman, it’s who crosses the line first.”
The rise to national prominence for Natalie has not been an easy one, however. Throughout the year she has endured certain struggles and close calls before getting to where she is now. The long track season, which includes cross country along with the indoor and outdoor track and field seasons, has proven to be a test for Natalie, who joined the Seminoles with strong expectations.
Natalie came to FSU by way of Palisade High School in Grand Junction, Colo., where she won 13 state titles between track and cross country. Coincidentally, she never ran the 1,500 meters until coming to Florida State. Boasting such a successful prep resume caught the interest of the Tribe’s cross country head coach Bob Braman. But the credentials were not all that impressed him about Natalie.
“We were impressed with the fact that she always won,” said Braman. “She’s a winner. That’s a hard thing to coach, somebody to learn how to win. Time isn’t as important if you’re a winner. And I’ve been surprised big time by her development to this great of a level. Her improvement has just been unbelievable.”
And improve she has. Natalie has knocked off approximately 30 seconds from her personal best in the 1,500 meters after converting the time from her personal best in the mile. In addition, she has continued to strive for the national championships after being so close twice already this year. She was the last provisional qualifier to not make it to the NCAA Indoor Championships for the mile run, and the cross country team missed the trip to nationals by one point at the regional meet.
Early on during the outdoor season at the Stanford Invitational, one of the top meets of the year, Natalie planned on making a breakthrough performance against some of the toughest competition in the nation. However, midway through her 1,500 meter run Natalie was tripped and received a large gash in her leg as a result of the accident. Natalie went on to finish the race at a respectable 4:27, but worried that she may have missed her chance to compete at her best against such a strong field.
Resting the injury, Natalie began to focus on the ACC championship meet. She wowed the crowd as she defeated the nation’s top mile runner in North Carolina’s Shalane Flanagan in the prelims. In the final, Natalie ended up third, but also turned in her best 1,500-meter time of her career at 4:20.77. The provisional qualifying mark ranked her 19th in the country.
Nervous on whether the time would be fast enough to be selected to compete at NCAAs, coach Braman sent Natalie back out to California for the Stanford Qualifier, where she ran the third-fastest time in school history and locked up a trip to the NCAA Championships.
“I knew I was getting up there,” said Hughes on her third-fastest time in FSU history. “But it’s pretty exciting. I know those records are hard to earn and take a lot of work. So it’s exciting to know that I’ve worked almost as hard as quit a few of the ladies in the past. It’s motivation, it’s kind of cool actually.”
Natalie’s goal for this season’s championships is to finish in the top eight and earn All-America honors. If she runs to her ability, coach Braman believes she can achieve her goal.
“I’m really excited for her,” said Braman. “We think that she can be an NCAA champion some day.”