FORT MYERS, Fla. - Florida Gulf Coast University cross country coach Chris Highfield had a simple goal for his teams first season of eligibility in NCAA Division II.
With both the men’s and women’s rosters dominated by underclassmen, Highfield hoped his teams would show consistent improvement and the top runners on each team would have an opportunity to compete in the South Region meet. Mission accomplished.
Sophomores Edison Vasquez and Katy Steffan will become the first athletes at FGCU to compete in a NCAA championship event when they compete in the 2004 NCAA South Regional Meet scheduled for Saturday, November 6 in Memphis, Tennessee. Christian Brothers University is hosting the event at Shelby Farms.
“Based on their performances, both of them deserved to compete at this level,” said Highfield. “They put in the hard work necessary over the summer and all fall they continued to improve.”
Although their teammates will not be competing, both runners have benefitted from their teammates continuing to push them in daily 6 a.m. training sessions. The extra work could help as both runners will race at longer distances than the normal regular season events.
The men, who are slated to run at 9 a.m., will compete in a 10,000-meter race rather than the typical 8,000-meter distance. The women’s race, which begins at 10:15 a.m., will run 6,000-meters versus the normal 5,000-meter race. The course for each race will be mostly grass with some asphalt sidewalks to cross and rolling hills throughout. Highfield thinks the longer races will benefits his runners.
“They are both true distance people,” said Highfield, in his third season with the young Eagles program. “They are prepared for the extra distance and it may benefit them more than some of the track-type runners who prefer the shorter distances.
Vasquez (Naples High) has been driven to reach the regional meet since last season. Increased mileage and a tougher training regimen propelled him to a school record 26:49.68 in the 8-K this fall. Vasquez owns the ten fastest times in school history over the past two seasons.
“The South Region meet was a goal we have talked about since last season,” said Highfield. “Edison knew what he needed to do to compete at that level and he has met every challenge.”
Steffan (Naples Barron Collier) will be running in her second regional meet this weekend. She qualified for the South Regionals last year as a member of the team at Eckerd College. She ran a career-best and FGCU 5-K record of 19:40 this fall. Five of her six finishes this year are among the top-10 in the program’s history.
“Katy got a taste of the regional competition last fall and her goal since she got here was to make it back,” said Highfield. “Last year she ran in the 24-minute range and I think she has an excellent chance of considerable improvement this year.”
Just the top three men’s teams and top two individual males, and the top four women’s teams and top two individual females, will qualify for next week’s NCAA Division II Championship.
Regardless of where they finish, Vasquez and Steffan have made FGCU history.