NOTRE DAME, Ind. – With Militsa Mircheva and Elizabeth Funderburk leading the charge, followed closely by a rapidly-improving pack, the Florida State women’s cross country team knocked off two nationally ranked teams with a third-place at Friday’s Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational.
The Noles’ depth paid off as they placed five runners in the top 37 to finish with 113 points, edging No. 22 Notre Dame (114) and handling No. 21 California. In addition to the host Irish, coach Kelly Phillips’ squad also finished in front of ACC foes Duke (fifth, 180) and Clemson (10th, 267).
BYU, ranked 11th nationally, won with 37 points, followed by No. 12 Furman (80).
“I’m super pleased with how they ran,” Phillips said. “They were confident and they all raced really well. We still have a lot of work to do, but I think they’re walking away from here realizing that they’re a pretty solid team.
“It’s nice to walk away from a big meet finally [saying], ‘Ok, we’re getting some things done.’ Now the next couple of meets are what really matters.”
Mircheva and Funderburk finished 10th and 11th, respectively, in 17:03.8 and 17:05.2, but the difference proved to be the pack of Maudie Skyring (27th, 17:26.3) Megan Mooney (28th, 17:28.4) and Jodie Judd (37th, 17:39.1). Judd finished one spot – and 1.5 seconds – in front of Notre Dame’s No. 4 runner to secure the victory.
“Mooney always runs well on this course,” Phillips said. “And Maudie is in such better shape than she was a year ago. She started to fade and Mooney came up on her and I think seeing her kind of got them fired up to run together. That made a huge difference and they really came on strong at the end.”
Judd, racing just six days after leading FSU’s developmental group at the Mountain Dew Invitational, put together another solid performance as she continues to rebound from an illness which sidelined her the entire 2018 outdoor track & field season.
“She’s getting there; back-to-back weekends [racing],” Phillips added. “We’re making progress in her training. I think if we can keep moving forward like we are, by the time regionals come she can be back with the other two.”
Close behind them was sophomore Jen Lima, who finished 66th in 18:00.17. Of the top six, Funderburk, Skyring and Lima all recorded personal-best times for 5000 meters.
“Honestly I think Lima could have been up with Mooney, she just doesn’t know it,” said Phillips. “She wants to know it, but she just doesn’t true in her heart believe it yet. Hitting those times for her still catches her off guard.”
Of course, Mircheva and Funderburk, who finished 1-2 in each of FSU’s first two meets, were once again out in front of the group. Mircheva was sixth with 1000 meters to go and was nearly reeled in by her freshman teammate, Funderburk.
“She was fantastic,” Phillips said of Funderburk. “I think when she saw Militsa at the end right there it shocked her a little bit. To run that kind of time as a freshman…She’s just such a smooth runner. She’s done such a great job and she’s so consistent.”
Funderburk was pleased as well, especially after getting her first taste of big-time competition.
“I’m happy with my result,” said the Moultrie, Ga. native, who was the second freshman across the finish line. “It was a pretty solid time…
“It was really exciting to know that I’m helping to contribute to this too; having such a good year so far. It’s really fun being a part of a good team, finishing third against a pretty good field. I’m excited for the rest of this season because I feel like we’ve got a lot of improvements we can make and keep getting better.”
As important as Funderburk’s arrival has been to the Noles’ improvement, the development of Skyring, among others, has been equally important. The sophomore from Australia was nearly a minute faster than a year ago at the same meet to lead the second wave of FSU runners.
“I was really excited to see my time,” Skyring said. “I shaved off almost a minute. I did the same at Boone so I was pretty confident coming in. Also, our team did really well today, coming away third. We wanted a top-five finish, so coming in third, we’re really happy with that.
“Going into Wisconsin we can really work on continuing to improve as a team. Jodie ran really well, then we were in little packs. It was really nice to see teammates all around you and work together.”
Youngsters Lead Seventh-Place Men
Youth abounds on the Florida State men’s roster and on Friday, it also led the way to a seventh-place finish. Three freshmen were among the first four Noles across the finish line, once again led by redshirt Caleb Pottorff.
Pottorff was 23rd overall, covering the five-mile course in 24:26.56, and followed by fast-closing junior teammate Steven Cross. Cross continued his racing renaissance, placing 32nd in 24:38.83.
“It was definitely an experience, coming from the smaller meets at Boston and Covered Bridge to showing up at this race with 150-plus runners and a couple nationally ranked teams,” said Pottorff, who was running with the front pack early on. “Overall I have a lot to take away from it and a lot of room to improve, but I’m very pleased with how the race went.”
Second-ranked BYU was the class of the field, winning with a scant 23 points. Wyoming (105), Notre Dame (119), No. 28 Furman (140) and Weber State (189) rounded out the top five. The Noles came up five points shy of Dayton (207) in seventh with 212.
And though the Noles fell two spots shy of a top-five finish goal, men’s coach Bob Braman wasn’t unhappy with the effort of a group which included six of nine starters racing around the Burke Golf Course for the first time.
“We’re competing hard, but I think we’re losing a little bit of that focus and intensity of, ‘Ok, at this point in the race, I have to really, really make sure that I’m staying on this pack. I can’t let this pack get away from me,’” Braman said. “We’ve got to fix that. If we do, I think we’re potentially a top-five ACC team and potentially an [NCAA] bubble team.”
Cross’ return to freshman season form, and better, will be key to turning potential into reality.
“I was really happy with the way I raced the second half of the race. I don’t know if I have my full confidence back,” Cross said. “I think it’s getting there, but I need to get my edge back, my swagger back, a little bit and race more confidently early on.
“I just need to put myself in a better position, because I was feeling good enough in the second half of the race that I should have been in a much better spot to work harder and get closer to the top 10, or top 15. I was so far back and I kind of just little myself slip. I zoned myself in and had to work to even get up to where I was today. It was definitely a huge step forward.”
Braman praised the performance of true freshman Paul Stafford, who positioned himself inside the top 50 early and fought to stay there, ultimately coming home 44th (24:50.14). Classmate Matthew Newland took a more measured approach to the early stages of the race and mounted a strong rally to finish 58th (25:02.39).
“Paul and Matt ran really well,” Cross said of the youngsters. “It’s pretty overwhelming for them, I’m sure. It’s a much bigger field and much more competitive field than they’ve ever raced in. They handled it well. We all didn’t run quite as well as we wanted to, but with everything taken into to consideration, we can’t complain too much.
“They didn’t crumble. They ran hard and competed. Overall, I think we did well for Florida State, especially compared to the last few years here.”
Redshirt junior Tyson Murray was FSU’s No. 5 scorer, registering a 5-mile personal-best (25:06.96) to place 64th.
“Ty’s got a massive head cold and comes out here and PBs,” Braman said. “I like the way he ran. Here’s Ty having to hold the fort at No. 4 between three miles and 400 meters to go. Ty is a leader that way. He could see that not only was he running well, but that we needed him to hold the fort.
“Seventh place is a decent effort. We beat some good teams. There are a lot more disappointed coaches at this meet than Bob Braman.”