Highlight From The Pre-2012 NCAA Cross Country Championships Press Conference

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Dave Smith, Girma Mecheseo, Tom Farrell, Karen Harvey and Lance Harter Speak

Courtesy of the NCAA
November 16, 2012

Editor’s note: Below are some of the highlights from today’s press conference in Louisville, KY.

Oklahoma State Men’s Head Coach Dave Smith

Opening Statement …

“I’m just excited to be here. The national championships – I think we’re all fit and healthy and ready to go, which is 90 percent of the battle at this time of the year, just getting everyone to the starting line and ready to go. I think the course looks great and the weather looks like it’s going to be perfect. I think the field is as deep and full of parity as it has been in the last 10 years. I think there’s 10 teams that you could put in a bag, shake up, and draw a different order every time. I think it’s going to be a real dog fight out there.”

On the course conditions …

“You know, like any cross country course or golf course, it plays a little differently than every other course. There’s different challenges to every course you run on. There’s a couple quick, little dips and undulations in the terrain in the first 500-600 meters, that if you’re not awake or paying attention, can be an issue. Having run the course twice in the last couple days and seeing it and knowing when those things are coming, it’s not too much of an issue. There’s a lot of turning – 90-degree turns or 180-degree turns – that poses different challenges than a wide open course, but at the end of the day, I don’t think the course really determines the race; I think athletes do. Good athletes adjust to any course, just like a golf course; you have to know how to play it or run it. I think the course looks great. It’s in great shape. The footing is good. Even from yesterday to today, it’s firmed up a little bit and it’s been even more manicured than before. Somebody’s been working hard to keep improving it.”

On handling being the favorite in the men’s race …

“In our minds, we’re never the underdog and we’re never the favorite. We’re a team out there trying to win the championship. I think, every year, there’s at least 3-4 teams that are pretty equally matched. Even if it might not look that way throughout the year, it always comes out that way in the end, or nearly comes out that way in the end. The difference between this year and last year is maybe, last year, we had some guys who had done some incredible things for us. I think a lot of our team expected those guys to do everything for us again; that those guys can win a championship by themselves. I think some of our young guys weren’t prepared to step up and fill the roles they needed to fill, and thought German Fernandez, Colby Lowe and Johnathan Stublaski could go win a championship for us. This year, having to deal with the situation of those guys not being here, I think a lot of younger guys thought ‘this is the time I have to come through.’ I think we’re a little more deep and a little more prepared than we were at this time last year with a bunch of young guys hungry and ready to run.”

Oklahoma State Senior Girma Mecheso

Opening Statement …

“Like our coach, Dave (Smith) said, the course is great and the weather is great. One thing to mention, our coach tells us, is the course is flat and it’s very narrow. Whenever we start, we have to start a little bit faster. We have been getting ready for this and I think we’re ready to go.”

On competing against Arizona’s Lawi Lalang …

“Lawi is a great athlete and he already showed that he’s one of the best, but our goal is not to chase Lawi. It’s to go for the team title. I don’t think our concern is about Lawi. Our concern is for our team to come together and help each other and get it done at the championship.”

On the difference between this year’s team and last year’s team …

“Last year, our team was so great due to the experience we had, like Colby, German and Stublaski. Our young team is young, but we’re ready to go. Our team is really focused. Last year, we didn’t expect to lose, and this year, we are ready. I think we have what it takes to win this championship.”

Oklahoma State Junior Tom Farrell

Opening Statement …

“It’s looking like it’s going to be a great meet. The course looks great. Thanks to Louisville and Tom Sawyer State Park for setting up what looks like to be a great meet. I think it’s going to be another great national championship race on the boys and girls side, so we’re certainly looking forward to it and I’m sure everyone else is.”

On preparing mentally for the national championship as the favorites …

“I think, throughout the season, Dave (Smith) helps us prepare with the type of workouts we do and how we approach each race. We approach each race differently every time and, always toward championship season, it gets more important. I think, physically, that’s how we get used to racing. Mentally, you can’t take rankings for granted. As nice as it is to be ranked first, every team on that list isn’t going to finish exactly where that list says they’re going to finish. We’re definitely not going in taking anything for granted. It’s going to be a tight race, so we’re excited to race.”

Florida State Women’s Coach Karen Harvey

Opening Statement …

“Obviously, we’re happy to be here and more than happy to be healthy. That’s just a massive undertaking for not only myself, but my assistant coaches and our trainer, doctors and everybody involved. Getting us here healthy is half the battle. We had a good look at the course again and felt like we ran the race over again, and the preparation is done. We’re really excited for tomorrow.”

On her team’s chances for its first-ever NCAA Cross Country Championship …

“I think there’s probably three or four teams that could win on any given day. Looking at it on paper, Oregon is super strong and Iowa State, and probably another team from the West, even. I feel like, once again, we have worked really hard, we have done all of our preparation, training has gone great and that means we have a chance to win.”

On the difference between the 2012 Florida State team and past teams …

“Just a lot of experience. All these girls, even our freshman, Georgia Peel, has had world-level experience. She is a youngster. In Britain, they call her a fresher, so that’s a new one instead of freshman. Even though she is probably the least experienced, she does have world-level experience and talent. Almost all my other girls have been All-Americans, so that’s nice. They have track ability and talent and just that experience. This is the most experienced team. I have a lot of recruiting to do after this year. That’s how good this group is and how mature they are.”

On the course at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park …

“I definitely think this is more of a track athlete’s course rather than just that pure strength runner. I think that it definitely could be better for a 1,500-meter runner. They could be even more in the mix. I think Terre Haute probably favors more of a 5K-10K girl. That’s my opinion. At the same time, I expect – and I hope to be right – that my entire top-seven runs personal bests. I think it’s going to be lightning fast. There’s not much to stop you out there; it’s going to be pretty fast.”

On what she learned about her team at the NCAA South Regional …

“Regionals was great. We had a plan going in and they definitely executed it well. We did not want to lay ourselves out in any way. We have been saving for this race mentally, emotionally and physically. This is our race; this is the one we want. We learned last year that if you don’t come in like that and come in with a chip on your shoulder, you’re going to get killed. That was us last year. We didn’t come into it with that animal instinct. We didn’t come in and really realize that this is the biggest race of the season and no one is going to give it to you. After seeing regionals and then running hard for the last mile – they wore their racing flats – and we were able to do that; we’re very fortunate in our region. I know that there’s a big race in there, and obviously I’m praying that it comes tomorrow. There’s not much else I can do. We’ll make sure they get to the line and have a good warm-up, but it’s all up to them now.”

On Violah Lagat, the 2012 USTFCCCA South Region Women’s Athlete of the Year …

“It’s been wonderful to watch. Last year, she seemed like a freshman. You can say she was a junior and a junior college transfer, but she really didn’t know what it was – the NCAAs and the level of competition. Last year, she kind of just ran like a deer in headlights, and ran really well. This year, it’s just like she’s taking her running to a whole different level. She’s really serious about it, she really wants it and she’s realizing now that she’s as talented as some other members of her family, so I think that’s been really fun for her.”

On what it’s like to see her team finish 1-2-3 at the South Regional and waiting for the rest of the team …

“You can’t be like ‘Oh, we’re awesome through three and four.’ You’re hoping that five is sooner. I think all of the coaches have experienced going ‘Where is my fifth runner?’ I’ve experienced that several times and I think every coach has. I have a lot of faith in this group and I’m really proud of them, and I’m going to be proud of what they do tomorrow because they’re going to give 100 percent and I can’t ask for more than that.”

Arkansas Women’s Head Coach Lance Harter

Opening Statement …

“We’re excited to return to Louisville. We came here for the early Greater Louisville Classic; they did a great job of hosting that event. We’re really excited about coming back. We’re counting on naivety from my team. We have one senior who is a transfer graduate student, and the rest of them are sophomores. We’re very young, very excited and hopefully naïve to the idea of what’s going to happen tomorrow.”

On senior transfer Semehar Tesfaye …

“She has had a great season except for the SEC Championships, which probably cost us a title. She’s an outstanding student; she is now doing graduate Ph.D. work in food science engineering technology and she has an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering. She is very, very bright. She has kind of led our forces. She obviously had a little bit of a catastrophe at the SEC Championships with some breathing issues. We’ve corrected that and, at regionals, we ran a very, very controlled race with her, and she has continued to lead our charge.”

On whether or not his athletes appreciate the how strong the NCAA Championship fields are …

“From my experiences of being at those types of competitions, you try to convey that message to them, especially afterwards. If there’s some consoling involved, taking them aside and telling them that they have to understand that this is maybe one of the most competitive events that the world has in women’s distance running, because every elite runner 800 meters through 10,000 meters is hitting head to head on common ground on a common day. Nowhere else does that happen. It’s also something that you try to convey to your athletic director to let him understand that this is not just your common day. Just 10 percent of the field comes to compete at this level. We’re not only going to see Olympians and World Championship caliber athletes, but athletes that are on the rise for the future. Eventually, if they’re really, really good and gifted, they can eventually make the New York Marathon.”

On his thoughts on the E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park course …

“I think [Louisville head coach] Ron Mann and his staff have done a great job of coercing the state park people to collaborate in designing a course that is fair for everyone, wide enough for everyone and, my understanding is that, they had to take out quite a few trees to be able to accommodate that. It’s a course that is going to be very, very fast. It’s going to be a course where there is going to be some strategy involved, especially for some of those people that are counting on those fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh runners that they are counting on as key individuals to complete the team scoring. Your elite athletes are going to take care of business, but it’s those developing athletes that are going to really dictate the success of the team battle tomorrow.”

On how a meet like the SEC Championships helps prepare his team for the NCAA Championships …

“The SEC has always been noted for great sprint programs and, now, unfortunately, since I’ve been at Arkansas, some of these other athletics directors and administrations have decided that they also want to have distance programs, so everybody is recruiting in the world. The caliber of competitive atmosphere at the SEC level has risen dramatically in the last 10 years and, unfortunately for us, every bar has to be raised. Across the board it is now, ultimately, a great preparation for the national championships.”

On what he learned about his team from the NCAA South Central Regional …

“The regional meet was held in our backyard in Fayetteville, Ark. It was a beautiful, sunny day, 70 degrees with 30 miles per hour winds. It became very much a tactical race. We spoke to the athletes and tried to convey again to our youth that if you were running a 5,000-meter race on the track, would you want to lead the whole time. They said, ‘Oh, heavens no.’ I said that the same application occurs now that we need to sit back, let somebody else buff at the wind and then take advantage of that in the last 2,000 meters and they did that. It worked out very, very well for us.”

On having two less days to prepare between regionals and nationals in this year’s NCAA format …

“Training wise, I do a lot of sympathizing with our men’s coach [Chris Bucknam] because running two back-to-back 10Ks, you just don’t do that. That’s unheard of. 6K is probably not as much of a factor. Maybe more for our developing athletes, we’ve been a little more casual in the taper, trying to make sure that they are a little more rested. If we ran on Monday, I think we would have fit in two workouts this week, whereas we only had one. It’s not too much of an adjustment for us, but I think much more for the men.”

On why the women’s teams only run 6K at the NCAA Championships …

“I was part of the evolution when we used to run 5K and fought for 6K. It was like pulling teeth. A lot of our peers wanted to try to continue to utilize the 800-meter runner and some of those 800-meter runners were actually disguised 400-meter runners. I think there’s a lot of the people that maybe didn’t take distance training and distance development quite so seriously that thought that they could kind of fill in those athletes. I think in the future, we could continue to develop, but it will take a few years. I think there’s some people still recoiling in the idea of going to 6,000 meters. I’m all for changing it, but I’m one small vote.”

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