PENSACOLA — Pensacola State College will field a new sports team this fall.

A women’s cross country team will join the Pirates athletics program, according to Bill Hamilton, PSC's athletic director. He introduced Julie Burger as the team’s coach during a press conference last week.

Burger, an experienced triathlete, also is director of the college's Pharmacy Technician Program on the Warrington campus.

Recruiting will begin immediately for 10 scholarship positions on the cross country team, Hamilton said. There also will be five or six walk-on slots available.

“We plan to start recruiting locally. Dec. 1 was signing day, but we believe there are still high school athletes out there,” he said, adding the cross country team would participate in meets against Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi colleges and universities.

Pensacola State will be the eighth Florida College System institution with a women’s cross country team. Panhandle Conference colleges with women's cross country teams are Chipola State, Tallahassee Community, Daytona State, Florida Gateway, Florida State-Jacksonville, Pasco-Hernando State and Seminole State.

Pensacola State President Ed Meadows said PSC would spend the first year building the program.

"The 10 to 12 student athletes ... will be high-achievers with great begin-and-finish rates, high GPAs and graduation rates," he said. "Their parents will be involved, and these young ladies will be good alumni. We are expecting great things from the program and are proud to be able to help these athletes begin their journeys.”

Burger, a four-year faculty member, pledged to do her best to ensure the program is beneficial to the student athletes and PSC.

“We have a very successful athletics program, and I am excited to be part of the new addition. The running community in Pensacola is very active, and I am looking forward to having some talented young women join our cross country team,” Burger said.

Burger has participated in Mexico’s Rocky Point Triathlon, Tempe International Triathlon and Lake Pleasant (Arizona) Triathlon. She also has run in the Blackwater Trail Challenge, Pensacola Beach Run, Pensacola Double Bridge Run, Pensacola Rock N Fly one-half marathon and other local 5Ks.

Hamilton said it has been 22 years since PSC added a women’s athletic program. A volleyball team joined the lineup in 1997. He said discussions have been going on since 2012 about the matter. He said after careful consideration, it was decided a women’s cross country team would be the best fit.

Burger,  who earned a bachelor’s degree in health science education from the University of Arizona and a master’s in public health from the University of West Florida, wants to recruit young women willing to work hard at their athletic pursuits and studies.

“Running and education are both lifelong pursuits requiring strong will, determination, and dedication. Pushing limits and your own abilities is part of the student experience, and I am excited to lead the women of cross country in their endeavors,” she said.