Genevieve LaCaze is coming off a display for the ages at the Southeaster Conference Championship.
The Florida distance runner was the first to win the 3000-meter steeplechase, 5000 meters and 1500 meters at the outdoor-conference championships. But Saturday, at the NCAA Preliminary Championships she will compete only in the 3000 meters and needs at least a time of 9:43 to qualify her for the Australian Olympic team.
What really makes this event important for LaCaze’s is she needs to hit that time or better by June 11, the date the Australian team is finalized. With some down time between competition going into the regionals, LaCaze sees this as her best shot.
“It will look strange I think because I will be going out like a race horse,” LaCaze said. “I’m not running for a place. I’m running to get that mark. My focus is on running and hitting 9:43 and then I can relax a little bit at (NCAA Outdoor Championships) and focus purely on position than time.
“It is coming down to a point where I don’t have many races before June 11 to get that A time. At nationals there will be heats and finals, so I’m not going to be fresh. I’m not going to try to run a 9:43 in my heat at nationals. At regionals, it’s one race for the whole weekend. I will have had two weeks off since the SEC, so I should be fresh.”
The folks at the SEC meet can tell you what she can do when she is rested. She makes history. At the outdoor championships, LaCaze performance won her the 2012 SEC Commissioner’s Trophy. She scored 30 points as conference champion in the women’s 3000 meter steeplechase, the women’s 1500 meters and the women’s 5000 meters — the first female athlete in the history of the SEC to ever win those three events. She was also selected the SEC’s Co-Women’s Runner of the Year, sharing it with LSU sprinter Kimberlyn Duncan.
Her objectives going into the SEC were to reclaim her 3000-meter steeplechase title and to put up points in the other two events. So modest on the face of it but turned out to be in incredible weekend for her and Florida’s team.
“Getting those 30 points for the team and getting the three titles is probably the best weekend of my life,” LaCaze said. “I’ll definitely remember it forever.
“I just wanted to regain my title in the 3K steeple and help the team. That 4:13 (in the 1,500) was a reach. I didn’t think I was capable of that.
The other races came down to confidence with a certain kick. The 5K and 3K I thought were definitely in my reach. But the 1500 I still can’t explain how that happened. I went in ranked fourth (in the 1500) and thought if I could get fourth I’ll be happy because that’s what I deserve. The last 20 meters and I was in first place and looking around and wondering what’s going on.”
That wasn’t the first time she’s asked herself that this season. When she came back from winter break, she was without a coach. After more than four years at Florida, Todd Morgan left to become head women’s distance coach at Virginia. Enter Paul Spangler, who previously had been assistant track and head cross country coach at Virginia Military Institute.
It was unsettling for LaCaze because Morgan had been her coach since she arrived at Florida, and together they’d made a lot of progress — most notably in the steeplechase — in the last year. She was confused and worried. And with this being her senior year, she wanted to gain everything from it and make the Olympic team for Australia.
“I was a little shaky, but I said I was going to trust my head coach — Coach (Mike) Holloway — because he’s a fantastic coach,” LaCaze said.
“He knows exactly what he’s doing, and I know he cares about us girls and wouldn’t leave us stranded. Coach Spangler came in with all sorts of points to prove so it was important to him. It was rocky at first.”
The change in routine probably cost her the indoor season. She’d just come off a solid cross country season and considered herself to have “good fitness.” But when the training emphasis went to more speed work, LaCaze struggle.
“My body didn’t respond very well and I think I lost a lot of fitness trying to focus on sprinting and my speed,” LaCaze said. “It came to a point a few weeks towards the end of indoor, we had to sit down and say let’s find a good balance between aerobic and anaerobic training. I think we hit the nail on the head.
“We just kept the tempo up, kept the long runs up and he added some really good anaerobic 800-meter sessions, 1500-meter sessions, and then would do hurdle sessions to keep my steeple going. And it all just came together so well. I’ve always been a very aerobic runner. We did a lot of tempos. I loved the long runs. The new coach definitely added in really, really good sessions. My anaerobic fitness just sharpened up so much. I dropped time in short events which is definitely what I needed. I have gotten better and hope I have a little more left.”