Women's Cross Country Team Ready to Run
FORT MYERS, Fla. – The Florida Gulf Coast University women's cross country team begins its season in the six-team Saint Leo Invitational Friday night at Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City, Fla.
The Eagles, who placed second in this meet a year ago, will compete against five Sunshine State Conference schools to kick off the schedule - Florida Tech, Florida Southern, Tampa, Rollins and host Saint Leo.
FGCU will also make return appearances this fall to the Florida Tech Invitational on September 10, Embry-Riddle Invitational on September 24, the flrunners.com Invitational (Sept. 30), Walt Disney World of Sports Invitational (Oct. 8), and the Stetson Hatter Invitational (Oct. 14).
The course at Little Everglades Ranch will serve as the host site for three of FGCU's six regular season races, including the flrunners.com meet and the NCAA Division II South Region Championships, hosted by Florida Southern College, on November 5.
Women's Cross Country Outlook
Entering their fourth season of competition, the Eagles have more talent and depth than in any other season. Head coach Chris Highfield, who doubles as the men's head coach, welcomed 11 runners into preseason workouts last month. Senior and three-year team captain Antoinette Savino (Largo, Fla.) will become the first four-year runner through either the women's or men's cross country program.
"Our newer runners have no idea how far we've come in four years", said Highfield. "I like having the larger numbers. The depth has created a positive, daily competition between all of our runners. This is something we have had in the past, but not to this extent."
The team will be built around junior Katy Steffan (Naples, Fla.), who firmly established herself as the number one runner for the Eagles in 2004 and was honored with the Golden Eagle Runner Award by the coaching staff. Steffan set a new school record in the 5-K (19:40) in the Disney Classic last October and finished all six races under 21:16 last season. She became the first female student-athlete at FGCU to compete in an NCAA championship event when she competed in the Division II South Region meet in Memphis, placed 63rd in the 6K race in a time of 25:02.
Steffan will be pushed by sophomore newcomer Cadie Sly (Loxahatchee, Fla.), who was the No. 1 runner at Stetson University last year, and talented freshman April Ward (north Fort Myers, Fla.), a standout at North Fort Myers High. Sly ran a season-best 19:54 last year and also placed 43rd in the 2004 Atlantic Sun Conference Championships. Ward was a two-time state qualifier and Lee County Cross Country champ during her prep career.
Both Savino and junior Lindsey Garven (Oviedo, Fla.), who begins her third season after running fourth on the team for most of 2004, provide much needed race experience and depth.
Six strong newcomers with excellent prep backgrounds will also figure prominently for the Eagles, including a pair of juniors returning to the sport. Junior Lindsay Gualario (Naples, Fla.) joins FGCU after spending two years at Edison College in Fort Myers. She is a former county, district and regional champion and all-state honoree from Naples High. Junior Lauren Salvatori (Naples, Fla.) competed for a strong Barron Collier High program.
Transfers Megan Deavers (Naples, Fla.), a former all-area first team runner from Barron Collier High who attended the University of South Florida last year, and Lyndsey Kelly (Cape Coral, Fla.), a two-time state qualifier from Cypress Lake High who transferred to FGCU from Florida Southern College, will compete as freshmen. Marie Scarpantonio (North Fort Myers, Fla.) and Cindy Watson (Fort Myers, Fla.) are two true freshman that both ran for a strong Cypress Lake High team that won the Lee County team title last fall.
"We have runners who can step up every weekend and help us get better", said Highfield. "If we train hard and improve, I think we can hit our peak for the regional meet. Last year we only took our top runner to the regional. Our goal this year is to have our whole team compete."