TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Buoyed by a deep pool of returning talent, led by senior Militsa Mircheva and sophomore Jodie Judd, the Florida State women’s cross country team opens 2018 at No. 2 in the South Region of the United States Track and Field & Cross Country Coaches Association preseason rankings.
It’s the highest preseason ranking for the Seminoles under fourth-year head coach Kelly Phillips, whose previous three squads have checked in at sixth (2015, 2016) and fifth (2017), and have twice finished fourth at the NCAA South Region Championships.
“I’m happy where we’re ranked but as everyone knows, it doesn’t matter until November,” said Phillips, who would trade that preseason spot for a top-two finish at the Nov. 9 meet, which would secure the Noles their first trip to the NCAA Championships since 2014.
“I still don’t want to get a false sense of confidence. A lot of things have to go right for us to be as good as I believe we can be.”
Veteran men’s coach Bob Braman enters his 19th season at the helm with arguably the youngest squad of his tenure in Tallahassee. Still, the Noles come in at No. 4 in the preseason rankings, which is exactly where they finished last season, when they started off at No. 5.
Seniors Istvan Szogi and Toby Hardwick, and junior Steven Cross, head up a roster which includes seven freshmen.
“I feel like the last several years, we’re that proverbial bubble team,” Braman said. “Three years ago we came through and got the win. Then we’ve been fifth and fourth. “It’s a tough region because you’ve got a lot of international student-athletes, and usually they’re more experienced, and in a sport like cross country, that’s invaluable.”
Of course, so is hosting the NCAA South Region Championships. Rankings aside, the path to the NCAA Championship meet runs through Tallahassee and the Noles’ Apalachee Regional Park home course. FSU is hosting for a fourth time, and both teams advanced from the ARP in 2012 and 2014.
Florida State, for the 18th time in the last 19 years, opens its season on Friday at the Covered Bridge Open in Boone, N.C.
Phillips’ women head into the season with more depth than any of her previous three squads, with Mircheva and Judd back by veterans Megan Mooney, Hailey Hendry, Addi Coggins and fourth others with NCAA Region Championship experience. Heralded freshman Elizabeth Funderburk and redshirt freshman Kayla Easterly are expected to challenge for scoring spots, as will sophomore Maudie Skyring.
“It’s nice to be there,” Phillips said of the preseason ranking. “Our girls have worked hard all summer, but our work is just starting.”
Georgia checks in at No. 1 in the South Region women’s rankings, with Auburn, Georgia Tech, Mississippi State and Ole Miss following in spots 3-6.
Braman is hopeful that Cross and Szogi will elevate their performances and Hardwick, a transfer from Iowa State where he was an All-Big 12 performer, will provide the Noles with a strong trio at the front in his first season with the Noles.
Redshirt junior Tyson Murray is the most experienced member of the remaining key pieces, but there is no shortage of talent from the youngsters. Redshirt freshman Caleb Pottorff was FSU’s top signee a year ago, while true freshmen Jacob Holmes, Paul Stafford and Matthew Newland will push for scoring positions.
“It’s a reasonably talented group and we’ve had teams with less talent qualify for nationals,” Braman said. “[No. 4 is] about where we ought to be, but that’s not where we want to be. We want to be in the top two and go to nationals.”
A loaded Alabama squad leads the South Region men, followed by Middle Tennessee and Ole Miss. Tennessee and Florida are immediately behind the Noles in the rankings.