CARY, N.C. – When the Florida State cross country men and women depart the WakeMed Soccer Complex following Friday evening’s Adidas XC Challenge, they will be armed with information they hope to apply on their late-October return trip for the ACC Championship meet. The Seminoles, who will be competing at full strength for the first time this season, will be tested not only by a rolling course but also some quality competition, including conference rivals NC State, North Carolina, Virginia and Wake Forest.
“This is more in the tradition of the Pre-ACC where you’re going to preview the course and that has historically been very valuable for us, whether it was at Boston College when we won up there [in 2010] or Clemson [in 2011] when they had a new course,” FSU men’s coach Bob Braman said.
“This course, having been there before, has some unique challenges. There is going to be a really tough challenge to move through the course as elite distance runners like to do. They like to not have to get out and bang heads in the very early mile because the last mile determines who is there. It’s a unique challenge, particularly for our top five to seven, to see how we’re going to navigate this course when it becomes the ACC Championship.”
Seniors Harry Mulenga and Grant Nykaza, junior Michael Hall and a host of newcomers will comprise an FSU lineup that will be tested by nationally-ranked Virginia (No. 13) and NC State (No. 27), along with a talented Campbell University team.
Transfers Michael Callegari, Ibrahim Ahmed and Brandon Shemonia will welcome the addition of another highly touted newcomer – freshman Steven Cross – who will make his FSU debut when the gun goes off at 5:35 p.m. to start the 6000-meter men’s race.
“Absolutely this is the deepest team,” Nykaza said. “We’ve been finishing our eight-mile tempos, seven and eight [together], even with a couple mid-distance guys with us. We’re all looking strong. Being here for my senior year, this is the strongest I’ve felt since I’ve been here. I’m not looking forward to it for myself, but for everybody that is finishing next to me in the workouts.”
FSU women’s coach Kelly Phillips is equally interested to see how her squad measures up, especially with veterans Bridget Blake, transfer Catherine Blaney and touted freshman Megan Mooney racing for the first time.
Sophomore Carmela Cardama Baez, coming off a win at the season-opening Covered Bridge Open, received solid support from freshman Hailey Hendry, and returnees Fatema Jaffer and Tara Rooney two weeks ago.
Defending ACC champion and 14th-ranked Virginia and fifth-ranked NC State figure to provide the Noles with plenty competition over the 5000-meter course in the 6 p.m. race.
“The big goal is to see how close our 2-6 [runners] can be to our No. 1, because our 2-6 is a really, really tight pack,” Phillips said. “If they’re close to Carmela, we’re going to be pretty darn good this year. That’s going to be the biggest difference for us this year from last year. We have a really good, consistent No. 1 and our pack is really close, but how close they are to No. 1 is what’s going to determine whether it’s a good season or a great season.
“Having Bridget, with the experience, she can certainly pull the young ones with her.”
Count Baez among those who are anxious to see how a full allotment of Noles stack up.
“It’s going to be real exciting because we’ve been practicing together for a long time,” Baez said. “For some of us, it’s going to be the first race, so I think it’s going to be really fun to put it all together in a race and see how everything goes.
“Everybody has put in a lot of work and everybody is looking forward to it.”
You can follow the action via Twitter @FSUXC, with live stats available at http://flashresults.com/2017_Meets/xc/AdidasChallenge/index.htm.