TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Unfazed by the moment, Florida State freshman Jodie Judd set the tone for Friday’s NCAA South Region Cross Country Championships, charging to the front from the gun at the Harry Pritchett Running Park.
Hanging on for a 10th-place finish in her first NCAA postseason foray, Judd guided the
Seminole women to a fourth-place finish.
Forty minutes later, senior Michael Hall followed the same course of action, racing up to the front at the start en route to a career-best 11th-place finish as the men finished fourth.
In both cases, the fourth-place finishes left the Noles women and men two spots shy of qualifying for next week’s NCAA Championships, despite arguably season-best performances from both squads.
“You always hope that you do it at the right time,” FSU women’s coach Kelly Phillips said. “They just really ran for each other. It was awesome and I was so excited for them. You always want to be top-two, but that was a great day for us; three spots up from a year ago when we walked away bitter.
“Now they know it’s not out of their reach.”
In a significant bounce-back from their ninth-place ACC Championships finish, the Seminole women rode All-Region performances from Judd and lone senior, Emily Edwards (21st), to a 129-point total which trailed only Ole Miss (59), Georgia (73) and Samford (94) in a field of 31 scoring teams. Phillips’ squad came into the meet ranked fifth in the region.
Florida State men’s coach Bob Braman had a similar takeaway after his fourth-ranked men posted a 128-point total, that trailed Middle Tennessee State (71), Ole Miss (76) and Alabama (95); three nationally-ranked teams. Hall was joined on the All-Region team by David Barney (17th) and Stanley Linton (24th).
“While we didn’t make it to nationals, which was our goal, I still think we ran our best race of the year,” Braman said. “The top three ran their best races of the year…In the end, it would have been very, very hard to be in the top two, (requiring) 75 points.”
That was the mountain both teams were facing as the morning unfolded.
Phillips instructed her team to get out quickly at the start of the 6,000-meter race, and collectively they complied behind Judd’s lead.
“We did that,” said Judd, who finished in a personal-best 20:20.1. “It just so happened we were in the front group and once I was there, I thought, ‘Well, the only way is backwards so I might as well try and stay up there as long as I can.’
“We all really wanted to run well for each other as a team. When I saw myself up there I was like, ‘I’ve got to do it for the rest of the girls.’ I think everyone felt the same way.”
Edwards, the Alabama transfer running her final collegiate cross country race on familiar soil, certainly did.
“I’m so proud of us,” said Edwards, who laid down a 6k career-best time of 20:38.1 and All-Region honors for the first time. “I thought coming in that the odds were kind of stacked against us, but I knew if we put our best foot forward and ran with our hearts we would do well. Every single person did that today and I could not be prouder to be a part of this team.”
While Militsa Mircheva (26th, 20:45.7) was slightly off her best, Megan Mooney (31st, 20:51.6), Forever Young (46th, 21:12.1), Addi Coggins (75th, 21:35.2) and Althea Hewitt (95th, 21:51.8) all ran the fastest 6,000-meter races of their careers.
“The progress has been great,” said Phillips, who had six underclassmen in the lineup. “You always want it faster, but everything is progressing really well. We have a really great young group and some people at home that can certainly help our top five, and then signing Elizabeth Funderburk, who is a difference-maker.”
In contrast, Braman sent five of seven runners to the line who would be competing in their final collegiate races. Clearly, there was a sense of urgency from that veteran group.
Hall, who had finished 32nd, 31st and 30th in his three previous South Region meets – and had never dipped below 31 minutes for 10,000 meters – minimally had his eyes on All-Region honors for the first time.
“It was absolutely a goal and even a bigger goal was to not let potentially my last race leave a sour taste in my mouth,” Hall said. “I wanted to go out with a bang. I didn’t want to look back and say, ‘I wish I would have done this or that.’ I wanted to push and push and push…ultimately until I couldn’t push any more. That’s what I think I did today…
“Quite honestly from the start of the race, Coach Braman says to match the intensity of each race, and there was a gut feeling telling me that this race was going to go out hard and so coming off the line I just pushed out hard and went.”
Hall held steady to finish in 30:58.5 – a personal-best – and has an outside shot of qualifying individually for the NCAA Championships, if Alabama gains at at-large berth.
Barney, whose best finish in three Southeast Region meets for William & Mary was 45th, settled in nicely from the start and came home with a rock-solid 17th-place finish in 31:21.2.
“You’re always hungry for a little more, but from where I came from, this has definitely been my best cross country season and my best regional finish,” Barney said. “Keeping it in perspective, I’ve got to be happy with it.”
Linton, the Navy Ensign and online graduate student commuting from Iowa to meets for the Noles, turned in his finest effort of the year. The Wakulla, Fla. native finished 24th in 31:36.9, to earn All-Region honors for the second time as a Seminole after finishing 14th in 2015, when he and his teammates won the title and advanced to the championships.
“Personally, I did OK,” Linton said. I probably could have done better, but I probably could have done worse…I’ve been progressively getting better and I was happy finishing in that top 25.
“As far as team-wise, as much as we wanted to be in that top two, the top two was really stout this year. You’ve kind of got to respect their resumes going in. The region has gotten a lot tougher than it has been in previous years when we’ve gotten through.”
Junior Istvan Szogi finished 41st (32:08.9) and was followed by sophomore Steven Cross (49th, 32:14.0) to round out the scorers, after Michael Callegari pulled out past the midway point while running in the fourth spot for the Noles. Matt Magee was 97th (33:23.5) in his 10k region debut.
“Today I thought we did a pretty good job and were just not quite good enough,” Braman said.