TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Bob Braman is entering his 17th season as the Florida State men’s cross country coach and for the 16th time, the Seminoles will open a season at the Covered Bridge Open at Appalachian State’s State Farm Fields course in Boone, N.C. on Friday evening. If it seems that Braman is partial to Boone, you’re right. In fact, two years ago he purchased a home in nearby Blowing Rock, N.C., which is equivalent to the distance between Braman’s home and his office at Mike Long Track.
Yet that isn’t the only reason the Seminole men and women will line up – as they have many times before – at 5:30 p.m. to kick another season off.
Over the course of his tenure, Braman has carried all kinds of teams – veteran squads, young teams and those with unknown potential – to the mountain town in northwest North Carolina near the Tennessee border which serves as the home to Appalachian State University. Through the years the Seminole men – and women – have won more than their share of openers, though the meet serves a much larger purpose.
The traditional Labor Day weekend date of the meet is a lid-lifter or rust-buster following a couple weeks of training, and is usually followed by a couple extra days of training under cooler conditions and at altitude.
In reality, how Braman’s men and second-year coach Kelly Phillips’ women perform, isn’t the sole focus.
“It’s a really unique opening meet where you’re in the mountains but the course is flat, so you don’t have to run a goal hill to get the cooler temperatures and wonderful trails of Boone,” Braman said.
“It really gives us an opportunity to take a really large group as we’re getting a lot of experience…It’s a good opportunity in a low-key environment. The weather is better than we’re going to get until October, and we can put the whole team in there, give them experience running against reasonable competition that is not going to get us too far ahead of where we’re trying to be.”
There will certainly be enough competition to get the juices flowing as host App State, Florida, East Carolina, East Tennessee State and VMI will compete alongside FSU. The field will also include a number of regional Division II teams.
All-ACC returnees Harry Mulenga and Carmela Cardama Baez will front the Seminoles in the opening meet, which will mark the debut for transfers Ibrahim Ahmed, Michael Callegari and Brandon Shemonia and redshirt freshmen Christian Aman, Tyson Murray, Hunter Scott and Will Simons for the men. Freshman Hailey Hendry will be the lone newcomer among the Seminole women, but Marianne Aguilar, Claire Igoe, Madison Harris and Tara Rooney will be taking on expanded roles in the opening meet.
“The last thing we want to do is get into a giant opening competition that we’re not ready for physically – not up to that peak yet – interrupt our training and/or get a false sense of who we are,” said Braman, who offered a cautionary tale about using the opener as a gauge of the season ahead.
“The year we were second at nationals  we were seventh place at the CBO.”
As an added bonus, the Noles will spend a few extra days in the area for training.
“Because there’s no school you get the extra opportunity to train,” Braman said. “it gives us an extra opportunity to get somewhat altitude training, definitely cool weather training with some hill resistance without it being in the race. It’s a nice combination of all that. We usually come out of there pretty energized.”