TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Bob Braman nearly could not ask for a better situation heading into Friday’s Notre Dame Invitational. In its first points-gathering competition of the cross country season, Florida State’s 24th-ranked men are among nine nationally-ranked programs in the field of 23 teams competing.
“The opportunity is massive,” said Braman, whose squad is essentially competing for the first time this season. “I ran there in ’78 and don’t know how many times I’ve missed Notre Dame. It’s kind of a pilgrimage for me. I have a really good feel for that course; that meet and what it’s like.
“This might be the best opportunity ever at Notre Dame in the points-gathering era that I have seen. There’s nobody that we can’t beat in that field, but there are several teams where we can run well and still get beat. That’s the real intrigue to it.”
When the gun fires at 5 p.m. and sends the field of runners off over the time-tested, five-mile course, the Seminoles will be chasing No. 10 BYU, No. 15 New Mexico, No. 16 NC State, No. 18 Tulsa, No. 19 Michigan, No. 20 Princeton, No. 22 Southern Utah and No. 23 Eastern Kentucky. Wins over any of those teams could be the difference in competing at the NCAA Championships, or not.
With only the top two teams from each of the nine NCAA Region meets automatically qualifying for the NCAA Championships, wins over qualifiers determine the 13 at-large bids which fill the field of 32 teams.
“We’ve got to compete well and take as many of those wins that we can get to put us in a much better for Wisconsin, so it’s not do-or-die – get those points or go home,” Braman said. “And certainly not in an ACC [Championships] situation where we have to beat a Syracuse, Virginia, Carolina or NC State …several of those to make sure we’re protected at regionals.”
And getting back to the NCAA Championships, after its streak of 10 consecutive trips came to a close last year, is priority No. 1 for Braman and the Seminoles.
To that end, Braman likes the lineup he intends to put on the starting line in South Bend, Ind.
Junior Zak Seddon, the only returning Seminole who competed at last year’s NCAA South Region meet, and redshirt junior Glen Yarham teamed with former Princeton star and grad student Tyler Udland for a 1-2-3 finish at the Virginia Tech Alumni Invitational two weeks ago.
Barring unforeseen travel issues, they will be joined by junior Jack Goodwin, a transfer from the University of Bedfordshire in the U.K., who has represented Great Britain both as a junior and senior athlete in international cross country competition. Goodwin was just cleared for competition by the NCAA late Thursday.
“I think my eyes tell me from practice that our first four are really, really good,” Braman said. “They change in positioning and you’ve got a really good litmus with Tyler Udland. We know he was 47th [at NCAA Championships] last year. He was 51st the year before and the year before that he was 72nd. He’s a pretty consistent tough guy; a student of the sport and a high-mileage guy. He’s been very Ivy League in his whole approach. He’s had some good days and some bad days, and they wiggle about that much [holding his thumb and forefinger apart].”
What Braman has yet to discern is which runner will emerge as his No. 5 scorer. Redshirt sophomore Stanley Linton was a solid eighth at Virginia Tech, followed by classmate Otniel Teixeira and Antony Taylor. Sophomore Grant Nykaza will also make his season debut, so will touted freshman Michael Hall, who will make his collegiate debut against a stout field.
“Stanley Linton has looked really good but he has not competed in this kind of environment,” Braman said. “You can’t count Virginia Tech, even for Teixeira. And Mike Hall has not competed at all. Antony Taylor has, but he’s kind of behind those guys right now. Part of that is good because he’s training hard.
“We need to find a five. It would be nice if we ended up with a six and seven, but we need to find a five. This is a good meet to do it.”
While the Seminole men return to Notre Dame, the FSU women’s team will compete Saturday at the Paul Short Run in Bethlehem, Pa.
Complete recaps of both races will be posted at Seminoles.com and you can look for updates via Twitter @FSU_XCountry both Friday and Saturday.