BLACKSBURG, Va. – The threat of Hurricane Irma led Florida State officials to cancel classes for six days and sent many student-athletes scurrying to safer locations. Fortunately, the campus and Tallahassee avoided the kind of serious damage felt throughout much of Florida and the Caribbean.
Now comes the matter of returning to some form of normalcy, which for the Seminole cross country teams means jumping back into competition at Friday’s Virginia Tech Alumni Invitational. Florida State is one of seven NCAA Division I programs (among others) competing over the grassy and rolling Buford Meredith Cross Country Course.
The Seminole women and men arrive looking to build on the momentum gained by their team victories at the season-opening Covered Bridge Open two weeks ago. They will be more seriously tested thanks to the presence of the host Hokies, whose women and men were picked to finish third in the ACC. The Virginia Tech’s men are ranked No. 26 nationally.
This is also the first meet the Noles will compete in where they can secure at-large points toward reaching the NCAA Championships in November with victories over teams that automatically qualify for nationals.
FSU is returning the Virginia Tech Alumni Invitational for the fourth time since 2012. The Seminole women have won each of the past three meets, while a one-point loss to Akron in 2015 is all that separates the men for three titles as well.
“The big thing is Virginia Tech,” said third-year women’s coach Kelly Phillips, whose first FSU squad won the 2015 team title here. “They’re ranked third in the conference and we’re ranked 23rd [tongue-in-cheek] so there is a certain level of, ‘We want to beat them…they’re ranked a lot higher than us in the conference.’ There is a definitely a reason to go out there and run hard.”
Neither Phillips, nor her Noles were appreciative of their 10th-place ranking in ACC Preseason Coaches’ Poll. And they didn’t look anything like that ranking at Appalachian State in the opener, when individual winner Militsa Mircheva paced four Noles among the first eight finishers across the line. FSU grabbed seven of the top 15 spots, despite the fact that five from that group were competing in their first cross country meet for the Noles.
The Seminoles have added significantly to their lineup since then as touted freshman signee Jodie Judd (Great Britain) has been cleared. Judd will be among 17 Noles on the starting line when the gun sounds to start the 6,000-meter race at 6 p.m.
As for what she expects from her team, Phillips is looking to see how they handle the first 6,000-meter race of the season.
“I think their strength is in a good place,” she said. “We just started doing intervals, so we’re kind of done with the heavy longer stuff. I expect to see them a little bit sharper this weekend, whether that’s mentally or physically…
“With having them all back on campus and Jodie cleared, life is good.”
For the second consecutive meet men’s coach Bob Braman won’t have his full complement of runners in the lineup, but that doesn’t change his expectations.
“We’re going to really need to be focused,” Braman said. “That’s the biggest thing because you don’t go to Virginia Tech on their home course, which is really challenging, and not be locked in.”
David Barney, the overall runner-up at Appalachian State, and Michael Hall will be joining the team at the meet after evacuating to their respective homes in Lynchburg, Va. and Cincinnati, Ohio prior to Irma’s arrival.
“I hope that those two guys are locked in and ready to go,” Braman added. “The guys here in Tallahassee did a good job of staying on their training. We really only missed one training day, so that shouldn’t affect us.
“I think we’ll be fine from the whole hurricane effect, but the main thing for us is you’re looking at Virginia Tech – they’re ranked 26th [nationally] and are one of the best teams in the conference. The only time they’ve ever won ACC’s was on the same course [in 2012] we’re going to run and they know every nook and cranny of it. It’s going to be a whale of a challenge for us and I hope that we’re up to the challenge. Whether we can sneak a victory and get a point, get a win, or just compete well, we’re going to get better.”
The 8,000-meter men’s race begins at 6:45 p.m.
Sophomore Steven Cross will make his season debut for the Noles; his first competition since winning the USATF Junior and Pan American Junior 10,000-meter titles this summer. FSU will be without Stanley Linton, Istvan Szogi and Caleb Pottorff.
“I think we can be stronger at Notre Dame,” Braman said, referring to the team’s first major invitational on Sept. 29. “We’ve got to be ready to run on this course. We’re going to be out-numbered 3-to-1 by Virginia Tech. We’re going to run about eight guys and they’re going to run 24 or 25 guys.
“We’ve got to be on task. Several of our guys have run the course. We’ve got to be on it, but it is an opportunity. We’re unranked and we’re not getting votes and they’re a ranked team. That will be our driving force for this thing.”
You can follow via Twitter @FSUXC for updates throughout the meet and check back at Seminoles.com for a complete recap.