November 21, 2010 - by
Podium Pursuit


Nov. 21, 2010

By Bob Thomas

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – A stiff wind swept across the LaVern Gibson Championships Cross Country Course Sunday as the teams competing for the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships loosened up, just 24 hours before they would return to do battle.

Shortly after noon Monday, Karen Harvey’s Florida State women’s cross country team will vie for their fourth consecutive podium finish, while trying to wrestle the title from defending champion Villanova. The Seminoles were second here last season – the best finish in school history – after back-to-back third-place finishes the previous two years.

About 50 minutes after the gun goes off to start the women’s 6-kilometer race, FSU men’s coach Bob Braman will send his charges to the line to tackle the 10-kilometer course. A top 10 finish and a run at the school’s all-time best showing – eighth in 1981 – is within the Seminoles’ grasp.

The race day forecast calls for unseasonably warm temperatures, climbing toward 70 degrees, with a 50 percent chance of rain. Those would be ideal conditions for the warm-weather Seminoles.

“Our team is a completely different dynamic,” said Harvey, who graduated third-place finisher Susan Kuijken from last season’s team.

The Seminoles may not have an individual national championship contender, but their strength is their quality depth, led by seniors Pilar McShine and Pasca Cheruiyot. McShine is the quiet team leader who has the speed to race her way toward the front. Cheruiyot was 15th here last season, while sophomore Amanda Winslow finished 33rd to earn All-American honors as a freshman.

“We’re going to need a like magic tomorrow,” said Harvey. “The best thing for us is we just have not put that race together that I know that we can run yet.”

Harvey said the key to a “magical” championship effort will require getting her fifth runner – whoever that is – into the top 50.

“I definitely think the women’s race is going to be amazing,” Harvey added. “Every year it gets deeper and stronger. It used to be if you had three good runners, you were going to have a good team. Now, if you don’t have an awesome fourth and fifth (runner), you’re not going to be on the podium.”

Based solely on times this season, Harvey’s top seven are separated by only one minute. That’s the kind of pack depth that bodes well for a podium finish. Jessica Parry, Jennifer Dunn, Hannah Brooks and Astrid Leutert make up that group for the `Noles, who won last week’s NCAA South Regional on the heels of a fourth consecutive ACC title.

“I honestly don’t know who my top five is going to be,” Harvey said. “I have no idea. I really am confident in all seven girls that are lining up. There is not one girl that is so far away from anybody. I feel good about that. It’s a real close team.”

Braman’s FSU men also boast a tightly-knit front pack, led by senior Ciaran O’Lionaird, who captured the South Regional individual championship for the second-place Seminoles. A healthy Michael Fout, running in his home state, will be joined by Matt Leeder, Alex Smyth and Wes Rickman all finished in the top 16 at the regional meet as well.

“This has a chance to be our best team ever,” said Braman. “I think we are able to do things other men’s teams at FSU have not been able to do in the past. This team really is a top-10 kind of team and they are focused on that.”

For complete coverage from the championship meet, log on to Monday.

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