LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Militsa Mircheva and the Florida State men’s cross country team found validation – and success – with their performances at Friday’s Atlantic Coast Conference Championships.
Mircheva backed up her three-win inaugural campaign with the Noles, placing sixth overall, while the men’s team rode a strong four-man performance led by graduate transfer David Barney to a fifth-place team showing at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park.
“I knew that I could be in this position, but I just needed to prove it,” said Mircheva, who covered the 6,000-meter course in 20:08.9. “After today, I feel a little more confident that if I do the right things, success will come.”
The junior from Bulgaria calmly put together the best ACC Championship finish by an FSU female since Colleen Quigley was runner-up in 2014.
“I was absolutely so calm, I didn’t even have one-percent excitement,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘I’m going to have fun and do a solid workout today with some pretty good girls.’
“I went a little bit slower the first kilometer. My goal wasn’t to catch the pack from the beginning, but about 1.5k I was with them already. I just stayed calm and tried to stay as strong as I can.”
By executing that plan, Mircheva earned All-ACC honors. So did Barney, who was 21st overall and finished the 8,000-meter race in 24:02.1. More importantly, Barney had company from his teammates as Stanley Linton (26th, 24:05.7), Michael Hall (29th, 24:11.5) and Istvan Szogi (31st, 24:14.4) finished within 12 seconds of each other.
That pack mentality wasn’t enough to reel in fourth-ranked Syracuse, which won its fifth consecutive men’s title with a meager 27 points. Eleventh-ranked Virginia Tech (73 points), No. 22 NC State (98) and Virginia (100) were the only other teams from the field of 15 in front of the Noles.
“That’s pretty awesome,” Barney said, after picking up his first All-ACC medal. “That was definitely some motivation the last 3k of the race, knowing that I was that close. My top goal coming in would have been top-10 but I knew that was going to be tough and my past two races have really been a struggle. Today I really just hoped to have a good race and I think this was a step forward; keeping the positive momentum for myself and the team going into regionals was huge.”
Barney, who won All-Colonial honors at William & Mary last season, was most encouraged by the efforts of his teammates.
“I don’t go into a race hoping to be our No. 1,” Barney said. “I know we’ve got a lot of good, talented guys who have done great things in the past. I think it’s the same situation for the team as it is individually. We’ve got so much positive momentum; the pieces are just coming together. Once we move up to 10k we’re going to be a scary team. I’m pretty excited.”
So is Linton, the U.S. Navy Ensign who was All-ACC in 2015 for an FSU team which advanced to the NCAA Championships and has designs on making a return trip – back at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer Park – with his teammates next month.
“Going into the [NCAA] postseason I think we’re in a great spot given the field we were against today,” said Linton, one of four grad students in the men’s lineup. “The competition was pretty stout today, but we did our part. We performed and feel really good going into the regional meet. We’ve got plenty of things in our favor.
“We bump up to the distance we’re prepared for and we are consistently getting better each week. That was our plan all along, to really be at our best at this point when it really matters.”
FSU men’s coach Bob Braman was encouraged by what he saw, but understands that the Noles need to get at least one more, if not two runners, with his top four at the NCAA South Region meet in two weeks.
Michael Callegari was FSU’s No. 5 finisher (47th, 24:30.2) and Steven Cross was No. 6 (75th, 25:06.0).
“I think we’re better than we were at Wisconsin,” Braman said. “We’re going to have to be better than this to make nationals. We’ve got to get fifth and sixth, who are very talented guys, in that pack. If we had five in that pack today I would tell you that’s good enough to make it, but we didn’t.
“We’ve got 14 days to improve and I think we could be better within that pack…There were a lot of good indicators, a lot of good pointers, but we’ll have to be better. This is not good enough to get to nationals.”
While the men’s team made significant inroads in the postseason opener, the women struggled to rise to the occasion, beyond Mircheva and a few others.
“Militsa came in with a lot of confidence and was really relaxed,” FSU women’s coach Kelly Phillips said. “That’s the first time I’ve seen her in a championship type situation where she was really relaxed and she looked great the whole race. She just looked so comfortable. Her form was phenomenal and it’s the first time after a race where I’ve really seen her proud of herself. She was really excited.”
The Seminole women, however, finished ninth for the second consecutive year; well outside what Phillips had envisioned for her squad.
“That was really disappointing,” Phillips said. “I didn’t see it coming because they came in with great attitudes, great spirit. The three that put it out there from early on raced well.”
Freshman Jodie Judd finished 26th in her ACC Championships debut, powering home on a sore leg in 20:59.7. Senior Emily Edwards, a transfer from Alabama, parlayed a huge personal-best over 6,000 meters (21:19.5) into a 43rd-place finish.
Junior Sarah Candiano, one of just three Noles with ACC Championship experience, posted her best finish in three tries (66th, 21:51.9), followed by redshirt junior Forever Young (78th, 22:03.1), who was making her championship debut.
“Militsa should be up with the top girls at regionals,” Phillips said. “Now we just need the rest of her team to run the same way. Jodie ran really tough and that was a huge PR for Emily. The three of those girls ran really, really well, and ran really tough. Candiano continues to get better each year and that’s good for her to see.”
The Seminoles will return to action Nov. 10 at the Harry Pritchett Running Park in Tuscaloosa, Ala. for the South Region Championships, where top-two team finishes – and top four individuals not from those two qualifying teams – earn trips to the No. 18 NCAA Championships.