TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After losing four of its top runners from last season, including the lone NCAA Championships qualifier – All-ACC and All-South Region performer Harry Mulenga – one might suspect Florida State men’s coach Bob Braman would be taking a cautious approach entering the 2017 cross country season.
That, however, could not be further from the truth.
Buoyed by an influx of both young and seasoned talent, the return of a proven performer after a one-year hiatus and a core group of returning veterans, Braman’s 18th FSU men’s team boasts unparalleled depth.
“This team is a cross between the depth of the 2010 NCAA runner-up team – the deepest we’ve been since I’ve been here – but I think we might have more similarities to the 2012 team that was ranked 18th and finished fifth,” Braman said.
Hyperbolic? Perhaps, but not all together unfathomable.
You see, success as a team in cross country is not solely dependent on the presence of a “low stick” – a term used to describe a team’s top runner who regularly challenges for victories – like Mulenga. And it is FSU’s new-found depth, which has Braman most excited as the Noles report for the start of preseason camp on Tuesday.
Assembling for the first time will be a collection of seasoned veteran and promising youth, plus an influx of new blood, much of it with a healthy dose of seasoned talent. Equally important, a core group of seven Noles has spent the summer months training together on Tallahassee’s trails in preparation for the 2017 season.
With summer training the key to fall success, Braman is especially encouraged by the training investment made in what he said was, “more aggressive than ever over.”
Among those who spent much of the summer in Tallahassee is sophomore Steven Cross, who spent much of his freshman year as the Noles’ No. 2 runner and followed it up by winning 10,000-meter gold on the track at the USA Junior and Pan American Junior Championships.
Cross was joined Bryce Kelley, who returns as a fifth-year graduate student after solidifying his spot in the Noles’ top five at the ACC and South Region Championships late last season. Redshirt sophomores Tyson Murray and Will Simons put together their strongest summer training as collegians, as did redshirt freshman Humberto Freire.
Joining them were a pair of incoming freshmen, Florida Gatorade Cross Country performer of the Year Caleb Pottorfff and Illinois prep distance standout Tyler Dau, who trained while enrolled in summer school. By landing Pottorff, who won state titles in cross country and on the track in the 1600 and 3200, FSU has secured the top Florida distance products over the last two seasons.
“We’ve been fortunate that we’ve had two truly elite Floridians in the last two classes, one that we knew was going to be a good college runner – not everybody did – and he ended up being better than we thought, in Steven Cross,” Braman said. “Then a kid like Caleb Pottorff, who we knew was going to probably be a right-out-of-the-gate college guy. That’s really helpful – the Florida kids who are at a super high level.”
Pottorff and Dau are the lone freshmen among seven newcomers to the 2017 roster, including a graduate student with a history of success as a Seminole.
Stanley Linton, an All-ACC and All-South Region performer in 2015, returns to the fold as a graduate student who is also enlisted in the Navy. The Wakulla High product, who came to the program initially as a walk-on, was the Noles’ No. 1 finisher (107th) at the 2015 NCAA Championships.
Another graduate transfer, David Barney, was a three-time All-Colonial Athletic Association cross country runner at William & Mary and the CAA’s 1500-meter champion on the track.
Hungarian native Istvan Szogi joins the program with two years of collegiate experience at Southern Utah. Szogi, one of the world’s top 5000-meter runners in high school, spent last year back in his home country and arrives fresh off a seventh-place finish in the 5000 at the European Under 23 Championships last month.
Maryland grad transfer Tom Hogarty adds vital depth to the squad as well.
The Seminoles will also benefit from the return of Michael Callegari and Michael Hall. Callegari, from Great Britain, was the Noles’ No. 2 runner last season before he year was cut short by an injury requiring surgery. Hall, a three-year cross country veteran, is coming off his finest year on the track which included an NCAA East qualifying spot in the 1500.
As Braman looks ahead, he envisions a team that is significantly stronger than the one who finished fifth at both the ACC and NCAA South Region Championships last season and missed the NCAA Championship meet for just the second time in the last 14 years.
Getting back to the NCAA Championships is the base goal, but Braman has hopes that with depth similar to the top two teams in program history – 2010 and 2012 – can carry this team to similar heights.
“I think we’re a pretty good team,” Braman said. “If you get enough of those pieces doing well, you don’t have to have a low stick. You’d like to have a low stick, but you don’t have to have it. I think it’s been extremely rare in the history of the NCAA Championships meet that a team put five in the top 100 and didn’t finish in the top 10…
“This team has somebody who could go top 50 – I can’t tell you who it is right now – but what we do have is a lot of guys who can go top 100.”
Leading up to the Sept. 1 opener at the Covered Bridge Open in Boone, N.C., Braman will begin to get a better feel for who may emerge as the potential “low stick” from what appears to be a tightly-bunched pack.
“Steven Cross could be a stud,” Braman said. “Stanley Linton was 107th two years ago. He knows how to do it. Would it surprise me to see Caleb Pottorff come in and be No. 1? Yes, but is it physically possible. He can run with the best guys on the team.
“It wouldn’t surprise me to see somebody break out. David Barney could break out because all of a sudden he’s a better athlete than he ever way. Michael Callegari could break out. He was starting to stick it to Harry before he got hurt.”