BLACKSBURG, Va. – With a little over a half-mile remaining in Friday’s Virginia Tech Alumni Invitational race, sophomore Megan Mooney knew the Seminole women were well positioned to win.
“Going into the last part of the race, the last half-mile, I could see Militsa [Mircheva] going up the last hill, saw Jodie [Judd] a little behind her and then the girl from Ohio,” said Mooney, who was running fourth over the rolling hills of the Buford Meredith Cross Country Course. “I knew if I could pass her it would be a 1-2-3 finish.
“I just gave it all I’ve got the last 100 or 200 to get that girl.”
Mooney sprinted past her target – Ohio senior Eileen Isaac – with 100 meters to go, securing that 1-2-3 finish to mathematically assure the Seminoles their second team title in as many meets this season.
Mircheva, a junior, won her second individual title of the season, cruising the 6,000-meter course in 20:45.0 to outdistance Judd, the runner-up in 21:15.6 in her freshman debut with the Noles. Mooney was third in 21:24.9.
Senior Emily Edwards (seventh, 21:46.3) and junior Sarah Candiano (12th, 22:13.3) closed out the 25-point team total as the Noles hammered runner-up Ohio (55 points), host Virginia Tech (87) and the rest of the 14-team field.
“This is amazing,” Mircheva said. “This year our team is very dedicated, so we really want to be in a good place as a team. Today was a really a great race for the team and I feel good when I can be a part of a team like that.”
FSU’s men were not quite as successful, finishing second to 26th-ranked host Virginia Tech, which was victorious by a 36-55 margin.
Graduate transfer David Barney led the Noles for the second consecutive meet, finishing third overall and second among collegians in the field of 147 finishers. It was a happy homecoming for the Lynchburg, Va. native, who ran as an undergrad at William & Mary but was getting his first look at the Virginia Tech course.
“I enjoyed being back, being home, seeing my family and racing some people that I know,” said Barney, who covered the 8,000-meter course in 24:52.4 and trailed unattached runner Willy Fink (24:48.0) and Morehead State’s Farah Abdulkarim (24:50.4) across the finish line.
“I just tried to stick to the race plan; keep the first three miles under control and work the last two. I was with the [Virginia] Tech guys the last mile and I know they can kick so I tried to put some distance on them the last mile and then hold them off. There were some good guys up front other teams, and it’s early in the season so I don’t quite have the finishing speed yet.”
The short-handed Seminoles, ultimately, didn’t have quite enough firepower to withstand a late push by a five-pack of Hokies, who grabbed finishing positions 6-9 and 11th, split by FSU senior Michael Hall (10th, 25:12.0).
Sophomore Tyson Murray (16th, 25:31.6), grad student Bryce Kelley (18th, 34.8) and sophomore Steven Cross (19th, 25:35.4) rounded out FSU’s top five.
“We know VT really well and there are two things you know about them,” FSU coach Bob Braman said. “They’re going to run really well on their home course and there’s always a guy that you don’t know who he is that is going to run well and there was one today.
“They’re a top-20 team and it kind of gives us a target. We’re about 10 seconds a man average behind them and we still have Istvan [Szogi] and Stan [Linton] that are going to plug in and those are veterans. I think they might have handled it a little better. We have a couple guys who are just coming into their own in cross country for the first time ever – Bryce Kelley, Ty Murray and Steven Cross. Those guys are finding themselves and they’re running in an environment that was Virginia Tech’s best and they ran well.”
With Szogi and Linton not in the lineup, and Michael Callegari still on the comeback trail following offseason surgery, the Noles figure to make gains throughout the season, which begins in earnest at the Joe Piane/Notre Dame Invitational in two weeks.
“I can tell our team is strong right now and still learning how to race, but it’s early, so we’ll just keep learning and keep improving,” Barney said.
While the Seminole men didn’t quite have the depth to contend with Virginia Tech, the depth of the women’s team was clearly on display.
Third-year coach Kelly Phillips’ charges placed five in the top 12, nine in the top 20 and had all 13 finishers across the line in the top 27.
“From top to bottom I thought they ran really well,” said Phillips, after her team – picked to finish 10th in the ACC Preseason Coaches’ Poll – easily handled a Hokies squad tabbed for third in the conference. “I’m excited to see what they can do in a bigger competition when it really matters. I think they’re starting to realize, when they start comparing other times from previous races here, that they can run with top teams.”
While the Noles will get that test at Notre Dame, the Seminole women are clearly riding an emotional high.
“It’s so exciting,” Mooney said. “I’m very excited for November to come around. I wish it was here already. Things are clicking and the workouts are going great. Everyone is pushing each other. Having people so close together basically through nine girls, it makes it a lot more competitive and people are wanting to push harder to get on that travel team. I’m loving the team this year.”