BOONE, N.C. – Carmela Cardama Baez and Harry Mulenga gave the Florida State cross country teams a sweep of the individual race titles at Friday’s season-opening Covered Bridge Invitational and the Seminole coaching staff came away from the debut performance encouraged about the season ahead. As an encore to her breakout 2015 freshman season, Baez scored her first collegiate victory in 18:10.78 over the 5000-meter State Farm Fields/Kennedy Trails course, edging Florida senior Taylor Tubbs.
“It was nice to see Carmela win against some talented runners from Florida,” said FSU women’s coach Kelly Phillips, who happily welcomed back the sophomore Spaniard who missed the track & field season with an injury.
Mulenga, a senior, wheeled his was to a seven-second victory over the next closest competitor in 20:04.44 over 6400 meters.
“It was a year and a day ago that Harry had heart surgery and he looks like a champion again,” FSU men’s coach Bob Braman said. “He’s going to have a monster year for us.”
With Mulenga the lone runner in the lineup who was a part of last year’s NCAA South Region championship team, FSU finished second to in-state rival Florida by a six-point margin and edged third-place host Appalachian State by two points.
“We did exactly what we came to do – open the season with a hard effort and train our tails off,” Braman said. “I always want to win but we have to stick to the plan, and that means being ready to roll in November, not Labor Day weekend. I feel really good about this group.”
A trio of transfer graduate students – Michael Callegari, Ibrahim Ahmed and Brandon Shemonia – followed Mulenga to the finish line. A transfer from St. Mary’s University in the UK, Callegari was fourth in 20:15.93. Ahmed and Shemonia, who starred at Southern Utah and Southern Illinois last season, were 10th and 11th in 20:37.08 and 20:37.15, respectively.
“I thought the three grad students opened well and they all ran in their training flats,” Braman said.
Redshirt freshman Tyson Murray, who was running alongside Ahmed and Shemonia late in the race, rounded out the fifth scoring spot in 26th place (20:55.52).
Abdin Fator (41st, 21:29.36), Will Simons (43rd, 21:30.95), Matt Magee (53rd, 21:41.18) and Hunter Scott (67th, 22:11.88) were also in the opening race lineup. In all, six of the nine made their FSU debuts.
Much like Braman, Phillips was eager to see how her women’s team would perform with a limited amount of experience. Five Seminoles were making their first appearances among the top seven.
“We came to get some racing experience for our young runners and they all did really well,” said Phillips, whose team finished third behind Florida (28 points) and Appalachian State (49) with 86 points.
Freshman Hailey Hendry was the first Seminole behind Baez, placing 18th in her debut in 19:13.82. Sophomore Fatema Jaffer, the only other runner who was in last year’s postseason lineup, was a close 20th (19:16.40).
Junior Tara Rooney (23rd, 19:30.94) and redshirt sophomore Madison Harris (27th, 19:35.65), completed the scoring positions for the Noles, followed by Marianne Aguilar (31st, 19:41.71) and Claire Igoe (49th, 20:34.51).