TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – The wait is nearly over for Florida State cross country standouts Carmela Cardama Baez and Harry Mulenga. Qualifying for Saturday’s NCAA Championship race at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course was a year in the making for the Seminole duo, and while they share the same goals – All-American status – they come at them from completely different perspectives.
A sophomore, Cardama Baez has been bent on getting to the starting line for the 11 a.m. (ET) 6000-meter race since coming up short a year ago. Despite an impressive 11th-place finish at the 2015 NCAA South Region, the Spaniard was six places and 17 seconds shy of earning an automatic spot in last year’s field.
Mulenga will actually make his second NCAA Championship race appearance in the 12 p.m. 10,000-meter race, after qualifying with his South Region champion teammates last season, where he was third individually. But instead of having plenty left in the tank at the end of a tumultuous season, which included a preseason heart procedure and a delayed clearance for competition by the NCAA, the two-time junior college national champion finished 153rd.
This time around the Seminoles carry plenty of momentum into the grand finale. Cardama Baez automatically qualified with a strong third-place showing at the South Region meet on her home course, while Mulenga was fifth overall in the loaded 10,000-meter men’s field.
In both cases their performances fell in line perfectly with outstanding seasons.
Returning stronger than ever, the Zambian-born Mulenga won two regular season races, earned ACC Performer of the Week honors twice and USTFCCCA National Performer of the Week once, and added top-20 efforts against fields chock with past and future All-Americans at the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational (13th) and Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational (16th).
He followed up by finishing fourth at the ACC Championships and fifth at the South Region, where he raced elbow-to-elbow with eventual winners and NCAA title contenders Justyn Knight (Syracuse) and Jacob Choge (Middle Tennessee State) until the very late stages.
Cardama Baez enjoyed similar success, but only after overcoming a serious leg injury which sidelined her for both the indoor and outdoor track & field seasons. She wasted no time bouncing back, scoring her first collegiate win at the season-opening Covered Bridge Open – earning ACC Performer of the Week honors – was the runner-up at the adidas XC Challenge and mixed it up with the front-runners at the stacked Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational (17th) and Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational (23rd). A strong seventh-place finish at the ACC Championships preceded her well-managed South Region race.
While it’s unclear what kind of conditions the duo will encounter at the often-blustery LaVern Gibson Championship Course – rain and a cold front were expected to arrive Friday – Cardama Baez and Mulenga have an opportunity to join an elite group of Seminoles.
The first FSU woman to qualify individually for the NCAA Championships since Laura Bowerman in 2005, Cardama Baez has designs on becoming the 24th All-American harrier among Seminole women and the first since Colleen Quigley in 2014.
Mulenga’s qualifying performance extends FSU’s streak of representation at the NCAA Championships to 16 consecutive years. The last Noles to earn All-American status were Jakub Zivec and Breandan O Neill – the eighth and ninth in program history – back in 2012.
FloTrack will provide a live stream of both championship races, with pre-race coverage set to begin at 10:30 a.m. (ET) http://noles.co/2grHLFb
Live race results with splits are also available http://noles.co/2govIYD
You can keep up with the Seminoles throughout the race via Twitter @FSUXC and check back with Seminoles.com for complete race coverage later Saturday.