AVON PARK — When possible, South Florida State College Athletic Director and baseball coach Rick Hitt likes to recruit locally. When he needed a coach for the college’s new women’s cross country program he didn’t have to look far to find an outstanding one in Krista Schult, who was introduced as the Panthers coach on Friday.
The South Florida State College cross country program won’t begin until 2015 and Schult is gearing up for her final season leading the Sebring Blue Streaks girls cross country team.
Hitt said the decision to tab Schult was an easy one based on what she has done with the Blue Streaks cross country team and also the fact that the two have worked together in the past, as Sebring has held four meets on the South Florida State College campus over the past two years.
“The experience of having her run events on our campus played a major role,” he said. “We were able to get a sense of how she did things and how those events were run. Things went off without a hitch and the working relationship was very strong between the high school and the college and our staff and her staff.”
Hitt believes that having first-hand knowledge of how Schult operates and being able to relay that information to the school’s board of trustees and administration also played a role in the choice and set her above the other applicants.
Schult said it won’t easy to depart from Sebring’s program, but believes beginning a team with the Panthers is a great opportunity.
“It will be hard to leave, but I’m really excited for the next chapter,” Schult said.
Schult also shares Hitt’s philosophy of attracting local athletes if they can contribute to the team.
“I’d like to go local if the student-athletes are there and look like they can be competitive at the college level,” Schult said. “I’m also not opposed to going outside of the area to get those student-athletes who can compete here at South Florida.”
Hitt said the decision to add a women’s cross country team has been an ongoing process that is consistent with the college’s vision of continually moving forward.
“We have a lot of new programs that are starting at the college and we sort of piggybacked this to one of those to enhance our enrollment and to move our college forward,” Hitt said. “I applaud our administration for being proactive in that way in a time where maybe many institutions are choosing to stand by and sit tight.”
The Panthers may consider a men’s cross country team down the road, but Hitt said the top priority was to get the women’s team running first.
“We’ll take it as it comes and we’ll see how the budgets for the next few years transpire, but we’re really going to concentrate on rolling out a very successful women’s program first,” Hitt said. “If it dictates we can match that with the men, we’ll do so.”