The road to a repeat appearance in the NCAA Championships begins Friday night for the USF women?s and men?s cross country teams. The Bulls return to the site of their 2000 season opener, Boone, N.C., for an eight-kilometer run at the Appalachian State Invite.
Last year, both the men?s and women?s teams won the team titles at the Mountaineer Classic. Coach Heather Curtiss is confident that at least one of her teams can have a similar performance this weekend.
?I have a lot of faith in my athletes, let?s just say that,? Curtiss said. ?The way they?ve been running in practice, there?s no doubt in my mind that they can win this meet.?
The women?s team is the defending regional champion and lost only Rita Arndt and Jen Dorna from last year?s team.
Among the returning runners are Tara Quinn, an NCAA Outdoor Track Championship participant, Quinn?s twin sister Tiffany, and Cori Kill.
?We definitely should be up there in the mix (Friday),? said Tara Quinn. ?We don?t have any weaknesses. We?re pretty much the same team as last year.
?We only missed a couple of girls and the girls that we have jumping up are in great shape, so our team?s really strong.?
Freshman Christa Benton, one of the top 12 runners nationwide in high school, will occupy one of the vacant roster spots.
?She will definitely be in my top 5,? said Curtiss. ?She had a great run at the time trial, and in every workout she?s right up there with the top 5. So I expect this will be a good year for her.?
On the men?s side, an inexperienced team will represent the Bulls Friday and throughout the season. Senior Andrew Smith is redshirting, leaving sophomore Adam Chumbley as the only returning male with cross country experience.
Anthony Griech, an 800-meter runner, will run cross country for the first time and walk-on Jack Galley will also be on the roster.
Freshmen George Palmerola, Jim Vitale and Doug Brown ? a Florida State signee who transferred after not meeting FSU entry requirements ? are projected to be in the top 5 for the Bulls.
?They?re going to be the nucleus for the future of this program, those three guys are,? Curtiss said.
?They?re doing a great job. They?re training hard, adjusting to the step up to collegiate-level training.?
Palmerola said the step up has not been easy.
?It?s been a lot harder than high school,? he said. ?It?s like double the mileage every week, so it?s been pretty tough.?
Fourteen teams, including Florida State, Clemson and Tennessee, will compete with the Bulls at this weekend?s meet.
?I?m actually really excited and optimistic,? said Curtiss. ?I think it?s going to be a great year.?
Contact Khari Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org