TALLAHASSEE – Nine months had passed since Carmela Cardama Baez last wore her Florida State uniform in competition; a little less for Harry Mulenga. The competitive inactivity, however, did not prevent the Seminole cross country duo from leaving a strong impression to begin a new season. Cardama Baez and Mulenga each recorded victories at Friday’s season-opening Covered Bridge Open in Boone, N.C., and on Tuesday they were recognized as Atlantic Coast Conference Performers of the Week.
The victories and the ACC honors – in the opening week of the season – were firsts for both at the NCAA Division I level.
A sophomore from Vigo, Spain, Cardama Baez won the 5,000-meter race in 18:10.78 at the State Farm Field/Kennedy Trails course for her first collegiate victory. An All-ACC and All-South Region performer last fall as a freshman, she missed the indoor and outdoor track & field seasons due to injury.
“It feels very good because we haven’t even started to get ready to race,” she said. “The shape I have now comes from summer and doing cruising mileage and making sure I’m strong. [The performance] tells me I’m in a really good situation, but also I know that there is still a lot to do; a lot of improvement from that. That’s actually really exciting, knowing that what you have been doing is going well.”
After running a pair of 5000-meter races over the summer in Spain to test her fitness after an extended competitive break due to injury, Cardama Baez had some modest goals for her first competition.
“I just wanted to feel good and have a good experience,” she added. “There are a lot of races to come – more important ones – so I just wanted to feel good toward those.”
Mulenga, a senior who followed up his All-ACC and All-South Region cross country campaign with a solid indoor season, showed no rust after missing the outdoor season on the track. The Chililabomwe, Zambia native won by seven seconds over the 6,400-meter course in 20:04.44.
He was anxious to put the training plan he and FSU men’s coach Bob Braman had put together for the summer to an early test.
“The main goal was to put summer mileage – more than 1,000 miles – so by the start of the season we have a good start in cross country this year,” Mulenga said. “I can see that because I can see improvement in everything we do.”
Facing a 10-team field of more than 100 runners, Mulenga was pleased with what would best be described as his measured approach to the race.
“Our game plan was to do what we did exactly two weeks ago when we had a timed effort [on the track],” he said, “go smooth…and our main goal was the last one mile; that’s when we wanted to see how we could kick.
“It was good and everybody was there…This is what I’ve been training for. I feel like we’ve done a good job over the summer and every single day we are doing something I can see progress. This semester, by the grace of God, I will have a good season in the NCAA and will make it memorable.”
The Seminole men, despite Braman’s strategic decision to hold out several key contributors, finished second in the team competition, just six points off rival Florida’s winning total. The FSU women placed third among 10 teams, though Kelly Phillips left four likely scoring contributors at home in Tallahassee.
FSU’s men and women will return to action on Friday, Sept. 16 at the Adidas XC Challenge in Cary, N.C., which will serve as a preview of the course which will host the ACC Championships on Oct. 28. The first major cross country meet of the season will be the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational on Sept. 30, which will once again include a host of nationally-ranked men’s and women’s teams.