TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Encouraged by the makeup of their respective rosters as they prepare to lead their teams back to elite levels, Florida State cross country coaches Bob Braman and Kelly Phillips gained a little fuel for that fight Monday.
The Seminole men and women each checked in at No. 5 in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) South Region preseason rankings.
Given that only the top two men’s and women’s teams from the South Region Championships are guaranteed spots at the NCAA Championships, those No. 5 rankings don’t portend to the type of success either Braman of Phillips envision is within reach of their teams.
The Seminoles open the season Friday in Boone, N.C. at the Covered Bridge Open.
“I’m a little surprised that we were ranked fifth,” said Braman, who begins his 18th year at the helm and hopes to guide the Seminole men back to the NCAA Championships for the 13th time in 15 years. “I think the people, collectively in the program, whether they’re returning like Stanley [Linton], or new like [David] Barney, [Caleb] Pottorff or [Istvan] Szogi, are quality runners. And then you still have guys who were top-30-like regional runners, who are very veteran like Bryce [Kelley], Steven [Cross] and Michael Hall; fourth- and fifth-year runners who have been down that path.”
The preseason No. 5 slotting is the lowest for an FSU men’s team since the 2010 inception of the rankings. Last year’s fifth-place finish was the Noles’ worst since Braman’s first Seminole squad placed ninth in 2000.
The rankings are determined subjectively by a single member coach in each respective region, who is tasked with assessing teams based on returnees from last season.
On the men’s side, the 2017 South Region preseason rankings fall precisely in line with the finishing order from last year’s meet at FSU’s Apalachee Regional Park, where the injury-depleted Noles were fifth behind Ole Miss, Middle Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.
The write-up, published with the rankings on the USTFCCCA website, doesn’t appear to align with the personnel of the top five teams.
“Ole Miss, the surprise of the 2016 season, is ranked No.1 in the region even though it lost four of its top-5 runners. Sean Tobin is the top-finishing returner (62nd) and there are three talented recruits ready to make some noise on the course.
Middle Tennessee State starts the season ranked No. 2 in the region and for good reason. The Blue Raiders return their entire top-5. Jacob Choge was an All-American last year.
Georgia is No. 3, but the team to look out for is Alabama at No. 4. The Crimson Tide brought in a huge recruiting class headlined by NCAA Division II XC champ Vincent Kiprop and NJCAA XC champ Gilbert Kigen.
No. 5 Florida State will look to establish a few leaders.”
Nor does it take into account FSU’s return of three veterans who finished in the top 30 – Cross (26th), Kelley (29th) and Hall (30th) – at the meet in 2016, or the influx of proven talent, which includes graduate students Linton (14th for the Noles when they won the 2015 title) and David Barney (45th for William & Mary at the highly competitive ’16 Southeast Region). Or the addition of Szogi (42nd for NCAA-qualifying Southern Utah at the ’15 Mountain Region), the return of uber-talented Michael Callegari from injury or the arrival of touted freshman Caleb Pottorff.
On the women’s side, Phillips was equally puzzled by her team’s position, given that the Noles return only three finishers from the 2016 squad which finished seventh and whose highest-placing returnee was 61st.
“I think we’re going to be a lot better than our rankings say, but that’s okay,” said Phillips, who is entering her third year at the helm. “I think we’re a huge unknown to the rest of the region, because pretty much our entire roster is different than it was a year ago. I think it’s a lot stronger as a team, certainly, and the whole culture is different.”
Eight of 16 on the preseason camp FSU women’s roster will suit up in the fall for the first time as Noles, including veteran transfers Militsa Mircheva, Mackenzie Landa and Emily Edwards. Among the balance of newcomers are international standouts Maudie Skyring (Australia) and Jodie Judd (Great Britain) and a handful of freshmen with solid prep credentials.
“I think top-two is certainly doable for us,” Phillips said, having assessed the early-season fitness of her squad. “It should be fun.”
The published analysis of the South Region women’s rankings read:
“The SEC is all about speed.
You can say the same thing about the top of the South Region.
“No. 1 Ole Miss headlines this region and has five women with PRs at 16:32 or faster over 5000 meters. The Rebels also added key freshmen who competed in the World Cross Country Championships, have a 10:19 PR in the steeplechase and ran 10:39 for two miles, among others.
Next up is No. 2 Mississippi State, which returns four of its top-7 runners from last year’s regional championship. The Bulldogs’ freshmen class boasts the reigning European Junior steeplechase champ and a Foot Locker finalist, among others.
No. 3 Vanderbilt rounds out the top-3 with No. 4 Alabama and No. 5 Florida State close behind.”
Mississippi State and Ole Miss finished 1-2 last season in Tallahassee, followed by Vanderbilt, Alabama, Georgia and Florida, in front the Noles.
The fun, according to both FSU coaches, will be proving the preseason pundits wrong.
“Our goals are much higher than [fifth], but it is what it is – a preseason ranking,” Braman said. “This will certainly be some motivational material…for our crew as we fight through the dog days of early-season training. I made a copy of it and it will be in the locker room.
“It’s good, so everybody knows who the targets are.”