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Redshirt senior Stephanie Garcia will toe the line Friday at Panorama Farms for the cross country season opener and the beginning of her final year of eligibility. The outdoor track All-American in the steeplechase just missed earning the national citation during the cross country season last year, but helped anchor the team to a 15th-place finish at the NCAA Championships.

With the squad returning five of its top seven finishers from last year, the Cavaliers have earned a No. 10 national ranking to begin this season. Virginia’s first test will be this weekend’s Lou Onesty Open. Races are set to begin on Friday with the men running an 8k at 5:30 p.m., followed by the women’s 5k race at 6:15 p.m.

Question: As you begin your final year of eligibility, what are you most excited about? Or what are you hoping to accomplish throughout this entire year?
Garcia: It’s hard to believe that this is my last year of collegiate-level competition, so I want to make it indefinitely my best season. I’m aiming to be in the All-American range for all three seasons; cross-country, indoor and outdoor. I also want to lead a strong team into our highest finish at the NCAA Championship this November. If I can leave a positive impact on our younger girls and compete to my highest potential, I can close the college portion of my career well satisfied.

Question: The cross country season opener is Friday evening. What are your expectations for the race?
Garcia: This first race is always fun. It’s so early in the season that we’re not looking to knock anyone’s socks off, but we’ve had enough work in the preseason that we’re always able to have a strong showing. I’m excited to see our first years in action and it’s always thrilling when we get to come together as a team for the first time.

Question: The women’s team has a strong freshman class this year. How have they adapted to the team and collegiate training so far?
Garcia: The first years are fantastic! Obviously a driving force to our depth, as well as a perfect fit for the team personality-wise. I’m so excited to see us move forward.

Question: The women’s team was ranked 10th nationally in the preseason poll and was the third ACC team ranked. How do you feel the women’s team will stack up against its ACC competition and then on a national level this year?
Garcia: Honestly, this early in the season, it’s always hard to tell where everyone in the ACC is standing. Our conference is always really competitive, so I know we’re gearing up for a tough ACC Championship later in the season. We won’t see too many nationally ranked teams before Regionals or NCAAs, so we just need to keep focused and train to stand strong against the very best. We have so much potential, but sometimes it’s counter-productive to fret about national rankings.

Question: As the cross country season transitions into the indoor and outdoor seasons, how does your focus change? You seem to compete in a wide rage of events, from the mile indoors, to the steeplechase, to cross country. How do you train for all of those events?
Garcia: Year round, I’m focused on speed and endurance; those are obvious necessities for any season. But throughout the cross country season, I’m much more concerned with endurance. When track starts, I’ll really be focusing on my speed work and overall strength. You see some longer distance girls nationally who are tiny, but can run forever. I’m more concerned with getting stronger across my entire body, as steeplechasers and milers need arm strength and explosive power.

Question: Outside of racing, you graduated this past spring. What are you enrolled in now?
Garcia: I did graduate! I strolled the Lawn in May with a double BA in English and Government. I’m now getting my master’s degree in English. UVa has one of the best English departments in the country and it’s a huge honor to be a part of it!

Question: Do you know what you want to do when you’re done with collegiate competition?
Garcia: Once my eligibility is over, I hope to continue training until the Olympic Trials. I’ve been a competitor at the USA Championship in the steeplechase for the past two years and have made improvements every time. I think I can really continue improving over the next two years and have an exciting showing in Eugene in 2012!

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