BOONE, N.C. – Militsa Mircheva’s long-awaited Florida State cross country debut was a winner, as the Bulgarian blitzed the field at the Covered Bridge Open, leading the Seminole women to a runaway victory.
A junior, Mircheva was dominant over the 5,000-meter course in rainy and cool conditions at the State Farm Fields Course, winning in 16:53.29. She was one of four Noles in the top eight – there were seven in the top 15 – as FSU totaled just 25 points to easily turn back host Appalachian State (68).
Sophomore Megan Mooney was third (17:32.01), senior transfer Emily Edwards finished fifth (17:59.55) and junior transfer Mackenzie Landa was eighth (18:09.15). That trio was followed by freshman Addi Coggins (12th, 18:17.44), junior Althea Hewitt (13th, 18:23.00) and sophomore transfer Maudie Skyring (15th, 18:26.83).
“What a difference a year makes,” said third-year coach Kelly Phillips, whose team was third a year ago at the meet. “It was a great start. Everyone came in with the attitude I was hoping for. They raced with the attitude I was hoping for and they left, going, ‘OK, that was a good start, now we’ve got some work to do.’”
Phillips came into the season expecting the Seminoles’ depth to be a strength and she wasn’t disappointed. Only 93 seconds separated the Seminoles top seven finishers, which was comprised of five women making their FSU debuts and a sixth who was making her first road trip with the team’s top runners as a junior.
All 11 Noles that Phillips sent to the starting line were across the finish line inside the top 40 from a field of 123 finishers.
Sophomore Hailey Hendry (18th, 18:31.78), junior Fatema Jaffer (25th, 18:47.28) and freshmen Kayla Easterly (31st, 18:59.33) and Jen Lima (39th, 19:14.13) rounded out the FSU finishers.
The depth overwhelmed at Appalachian State team which won the Sun Belt Conference title last season and is favored to repeat again. Division II power Southern Indiana (74 points) was third, followed by Tennessee-Martin (116) and East Tennessee State (126).
Competing unattached, Ann Asipan, who was 18th at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in the 5,000 (16:06) in June, bolted to the front from the start but was chased down by Mircheva before the two-mile mark.
“Militsa looked great; she looked strong,” Phillips said, after watching her 2016 Olympian in the marathon pull away over the last half of the race. Asipan, who ran at Tennessee-Martin last year, was the runner-up in 17:24.26.
Mooney, who missed last season’s Covered Bridge opener, very nearly gave the Noles a 1-2 finish on her first time at the course.
“This is a course for Mooney,” Phillips said. “She likes it wet and sloppy, because she almost caught the runner-up, who wasn’t anywhere near her with 1,200 meters to go.
“Emily was strong, Landa was smooth and Skyring can race.”
Between Landa and Skyring were two of FSU’s biggest surprises of the meet: Coggins, the first of three Seminole freshmen, and Hewitt.
“Addi Coggins looked fantastic and she had a slow start to training this summer because of an injury, so she’s just getting things going,” Phillips added. “And how awesome was Althea? She worked her butt off this summer. I told her in the spring, ‘You had a great spring and I’m going to take you to camp.’ She took that as, ‘Thank you, I’m going to prove that I belong there.’ She trained so hard and looked amazing.”
The Seminole women will get their next opportunity to prove that they’re better than the preseason polls suggest – 10th in the ACC and fifth in the South Region – on Sept. 15 at the Virginia Tech Alumni Invitational.
“They’re pretty excited about where it’s going and I know I’m super excited about this group,” Phillips said. “I think this is definitely going to be a special group.”