TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Aside from a trio of venue changes for the championship portion of the season, the Florida State men’s and women’s cross country teams will run a 2017 schedule which remains virtually unchanged from the last three seasons.
The invitational nature of a cross country schedule allows coaches to measure their progress on tried-and-true venues at specific points in the season, where the only real differences year-to-year are the teams you are competing alongside.
Men’s coach Bob Braman and women’s coach Kelly Phillips welcome their teams to campus on Tuesday and will head out of town to train in cooler temperatures by the weekend., which is also a key component to the schedule structure each year.
“There are two primary reasons for scheduling the way we do,” Braman said. “One, we think about the weather, so we need to get in cool weather competitions. We don’t need to run into a giant fatigue wall in the month of September. So you’re trying to run in cooler weather with good competition, on known courses.”
The Seminoles will check that box this season when they open Sept. 1 in Boone, N.C., home to Appalachian State, at the Covered Bridge Open. The low-key meet on Labor Day weekend, a fixture on FSU’s schedule since Braman’s arrival in 2000, provides the program with great mountain training opportunities and a rust-busting competition against like-minded programs over the long weekend.
From there the Noles will return to Blacksburg, Va. and compete in the Virginia Tech Alumni Invitational on Sept. 15, which like the season-opener, is not a high-stakes competition but a time-tested venue on the home course of perennially one of the ACC’s top programs.
While some select runners will travel to Gainesville, Fla. to compete at the Florida-hosted Mountain Dew Invitational on Sept. 23, FSU’s top men and women will turn their attention to the first big meet of the season the following week.
“The schedule also accelerates the level of competition, so it goes from very, very under controlled,” Braman said. “We get to look at Virginia Tech, then we go on the road to Notre Dame. Colorado is going to be there this year and it’s a pretty good field there.”
The Sept. 29 Notre Dame/Joe Piane Invitational always draws a quality field over a relatively flat and fast course on the university’s nine-hole golf course. And once again, the Noles will be greeted by cooler temperatures. As an added bonus, the quality competition also enables the men and women to earn at-large points toward NCAA Championships qualification, protecting those teams who do not earn automatic berths by finishing first or second in their respective region championships.
Before the Noles return to the Midwest for another big meet, they will host the Oct. 6 FSU Invitational; the lone home event of the 2017 season. Florida State has historically run a controlled race for Friday morning’s collegiate competition at Apalachee Regional Park. This will be the first collegiate meet at the course since FSU was awarded the 2021 NCAA Championships on the course, which is now in its ninth year of operation.
On Saturday, Oct. 7, the Seminoles in conjunction with Visit Tallahassee, will serve as hosts for the high school portion of the FSU Invitational. Annually one of the top meets in the South, it will draw more than 200 teams and 2,000 athletes.
The stakes are raised the following weekend for the Noles, who head west again to compete at the Oct. 13 Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational. Like FSU’s Apalachee Regional Park, the Badgers home facility – the Thomas Zimmer Championship Cross Country Course – was opened in 2009, and it too will host an NCAA Championship meet.
“Wisconsin is a field that may be better than the national championship, because it’s 36 teams and at that time, it is a national championship [quality field],” said Braman, noting that it’s a prime event for collecting pivotal NCAA at-large points.
“These are storied courses and when you’re on those kind of courses they have history,” Braman said, referring to Notre Dame and Wisconsin. “When you have people run well, you can measure yourself.”
While the top Noles will be battling it out in Wisconsin, another contingent will head to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to compete in the Crimson Classic on Oct. 13. That meet often serves as a last-chance opportunity to earn spots on the 10-runner ACC Championships rosters for men and women, and as an added bonus, it is contested on the course which hosts the NCAA South Region Championships every other year.
The postseason begins Oct. 27 with the ACC Championships, which will be contested this year in Louisville, Ky. on the E.P. “Tom” Sawyer course that will serve as the NCAA Championships venue three weeks later.
“What really, really helps us this year, if we truly want to be a top 15 national team with a chance at top 10 – and a minimum goal of top 20 in our mind – the ACC Championship is on the national championship course,” Braman said. “That’s a huge benefit for us because we’ve got a good conference and [the men are] going to be running the first 8k of the 10k national championship course at a high level. It’s not an early-season meet, but at a peaked level. The women run the entire 6k championship course, and boom, you’re back in three weeks. That’s a huge advantage, because it’s a true indicator of where you’re at on that course peak-wise.”
How many quality wins the FSU men and women can pile up between Notre Dame, Wisconsin and the ACC Championship meets will go a long way toward determining the importance of the Nov. 10 NCAA South Region. If the squads have picked up enough victories over NCAA Championships-qualifying teams throughout the season, they can rest a little easier heading to Tuscaloosa.
If not, they will have to finish first or second to secure a return trip to Louisville for the Nov. 18 NCAA Championships.