TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – For the third time in five years Apalachee Regional Park – Florida State’s home cross country course – will host the NCAA South Region Championships.
The Seminole men and women hope the third time is equally charming, after running their way into the NCAA Championships at the 2012 and 2014 meets on familiar soil.
Friday morning’s affair will draw representatives from 36 schools for the women and 31 for the men, with only the top two finishing teams assured of a trip to Terre Haute, Ind. for the Nov. 19 national championship races. In addition to the top two teams, the top four women and men not on those teams, will also qualify for the NCAA Championships.
In short, it’s the most important meet of the season for programs like Florida State, who set the bar at qualifying for the NCAA Championships as the standard for success.
That’s what FSU women’s coach Kelly Phillips has the Seminoles shooting for in her second season at the helm. The Noles finished fourth at last year’s South Region meet, which snapped a string of nine consecutive NCAA Championship appearances.
Though Phillips’ team comes in as a decided underdog – the Noles are ranked No. 11 in the South Region – the race for the second NCAA qualifying spot behind top-ranked Ole Miss appears to be wide open.
“Their mindset has been fantastic,” Phillips said. “They know they can do it. They know they’re fit. They know they’re ready and they’re extremely focused.”
The women will be the first to the starting line Friday with the gun sounding at 8:30 a.m. for the 6000-meter race. Led by sophomore Carmela Cardama Baez, who figures to contend for the individual title, upperclassmen Bridget Blake and Catherine Blaney, and freshman Megan Mooney, FSU’s ladies expect to mix it up with Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Alabama for an automatic berth.
Unlike the women, the championship season brings about a change for the men, who will compete over 10,000 meters for the first time this season at the South Region meet. Developing his teams for that distance has been a staple for FSU men’s coach Bob Braman.
Braman’s Noles won the title last year, though their lineup for the 9:30 a.m. start will include no fewer than three first-time competitors at the South Region meet.
“We’re going to hope the home course advantage, and that we’re a 10k team, will make the difference,” said Braman, whose team is ranked third in the South Region behind favorites Ole Miss and Middle Tennessee State.
Senior Harry Mulenga is expected to be among the challengers for top individual honors as he chases, minimally, an automatic individual berth. He will be joined by 2016 All-Region returnee Grant Nykaza and fellow veteran Michael Hall. Newcomers Ibrahim Ahmed and Brandon Shemonia – both graduate transfers – are expected to impact the scoring.
Historically, at least under Braman’s watch, the Seminoles have had an annual presence at the NCAA Championships, qualifying as a team 12 of the last 13 years; a standard that ranks among the most successful runs nationally.
Now in his 17th season with the Noles, Braman has qualified at least one individual for nationals in each of the last 15 years.
Apalachee Regional Park is located at 7550 Apalachee Parkway and admission to the meet is free.
You can follow the action a variety of ways, including Twitter @FSUXC. Live results with splits timing and scoring are available at http://noles.co/2ele0Vj and there will also be coverage of both races through Facebook Live at https://www.facebook.com/FSUSeminolesCrossCountry/.