CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – From the outset, Florida State women’s cross country coach Karen Harvey wasn’t going to rush the progress of her veteran 2014 team. Tweaking the training accordingly, Harvey wanted the assure Seminoles were peaking as they moved through the championship season.
That season arrives Friday with the Seminoles preparing to chase a record-tying seventh consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Friday (10 a.m.) at the testy Panorama Farms course in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Count senior co-captain Linden Hall among the Seminoles who believe they are arriving at this point in the season right on time in terms of their fitness and focus.
“We’re all working really well in training,” Hall said. “I don’t think we’ve quite done it in a race yet, but I think we’re ready to do that. We’ve started to add the last few things into our training the last couple of weeks – with more speed and fine-tuning things – to get ready for those more important championship races. I think it’s all going to come together in a nice little bow.”
The 12th-ranked Seminoles enter what might well be the deepest ACC Championship with the highest national ranking – and plenty of company among potential challengers, including host and No. 13 Virginia, No. 15 North Carolina, No. 16 Syracuse, No. 18 NC State and No. 30 Boston College. No conference in the country has as many nationally ranked teams.
“It’s definitely deeper than it has been in my four years of being here,” Hall said. “I try not to think too much about that because it makes me more nervous. We just have to have our best race, stick to our plan and work together. We’re more than capable of beating those teams.”
Hall is one of three seniors at the front of FSU’s lead pack, which is paced by 2013 ACC Performer of the Year Colleen Quigley and Pippa Woolven. Junior Georgia Peel and redshirt freshman Bridget Blake have held down the remaining top five spots, followed by junior Carly Thomas. All five of the upper classmen have earned All-ACC honors over the past two seasons.
One of the most promising developments of the season to date has been Peel’s emergence, which has provided the Seminoles with arguably the league’s best lead four. An All-ACC cross country performer as a freshman, Peel is training and racing with a level of consistency that has her especially excited.
“I’ve been training really well and it has all been really consistent, which is a nice thing to have,” Peel said. “In past seasons I’ve sort of struggled with consistency in training and been up and down in the season. I feel like I’ve been improving each time [this year] with the races…
“I’m actually really excited for this race. I was pleased with my last race, but I know I can do better and I’m excited to run as a team as well as for myself. I came in 14th my freshman year and I’m trying to beat that this year. I’ve just got to stick with my teammates and hopefully it should all come together.”
The Seminoles’ maturity should be an asset as they chase another ACC title and prepare for the NCAA South Region and NCAA Championship meets in the coming weeks.
“It’s a more mature team than we’ve had,” Hall said. “We don’t have a lot of younger girls. We have a solid group of me, Colleen, Pippa and Georgia working really well together in training, and a second group as well that’s kind of doing the same thing. That has really helped this year; sort of being together and a bit more cohesive.”
Blake, Thomas and redshirt senior Chelsi Woodruff have been a part of that second group, along with freshmen Chelsea Jarvis and Katie Slater. Harvey has tasked the group with working together to provide the Seminoles with the pivotal No. 5 scoring finisher; a role that will be even more important at a 15-team conference championship, where every point is precious.
The smaller field – especially compared to the monstrous, 40-team Wisconsin Invitational field – should help the Noles work together.
“ACC’s will be a lot less bodies to be able to coordinate around,” Peel said. “We’ll be able to find each other better. I just try to find my teammates. I think that’s what works best for me because I know I can run with them in practice. If I can run with them in practice, why can’t I run with them in the race? It also gives you a little bit more of a confidence boost running with them.”
One of the other keys to keeping the streak of ACC titles going will be the Seminoles ability to handle the ups-and-downs of a Panorama Farms course that is easily the toughest the conference meet has been contested over the course of FSU’s string of titles. It is the reason the Noles chose to open the season at the Virginia Challenge for the first time in a decade.
“It’s great that we’ve been there and know what we’re in for,” Hall said. “We saw it and adjusted our training to simulate that course as much as we can in practice. Whenever we’re running up a hill in a middle of a run, Coach Harvey will (say), ‘Think of that last hill; that last hill at ACCs.’
“Everyone has got the course in their mind and has been thinking about it since we were at Virginia early in the year. It’s definitely a huge advantage having already run there.”