TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The largest college field in the 32-year history of the Florida State Invitational will get a spectacular weekend of cross country racing started Friday at Apalachee Regional Park.
More than 700 collegiate runners, representing 30 men’s and 29 women’s programs, will serve as the appetizer to Saturday’s 10-race, high school schedule with more than 2,200 athletes expected to compete.
The Seminole women will get things when the gun sounds at 6:20 p.m. for their 5,000-meter race, which will include in-state opponents UCF and South Florida, as well as Auburn and Louisiana-Lafayette. FSU’s men will follow at 6:45 p.m. in an 8,000-meter race featuring many of the team teams, as well as Vanderbilt.
“It’s just exciting that the meet gets bigger and bigger and more prestigious,” said FSU men’s coach Bob Braman, who provided the vision and much of the manpower that went into developing the Seminoles’ home course. “The course gets better and better. We’re inching our way more and more toward various national championships, whether it be Youth National Championships or hopefully the NCAA Championship. We’re getting really, really close.”
There have been a number of cosmetic changes made to the course since last season, most notably the sodding of what was once a clay road that began at the 800-meter mark. In addition to more lush grass on the course, the lightning-quick and wide crushed-shell trails are in perfect condition. Meet officials have also placed a premium on improved amenities for the fans, from subtle changes to the parking and access-egress to the facility, to visual enhancement for the spectators.
“We have a lot of little things that we keep adding on and on,” Braman said. “We do have the chip-mat team scoring, which I think is going to be awesome for spectators for both college and high schools. During the race they will know what the team scores are, which is always the mystery to anybody watching a race…so this is really cool. We’re trying to put that into the sport where it has a little bit more of a running scoreboard.”
And Leon County officials, who maintain and make improvements to the course, have added a coaches’ loop inside the course, enabling them to move quickly and freely around the facility to provide encouragement, coach and obtain splits. According to Braman, who has been in coaching for more than 30 years, it’s a unique feature to the ARP.
Ultimately, the weekend is about racing at a high level. In the case of the Seminole women, coach Karen Harvey has elected to rest seven runners who competed at last weekend’s Paul Short Run. Juniors Carly Thomas, Kaitlyn Kelly, Christine Griggs and Chantelle Brodie will lead the way, along with sophomore Courteney West and freshmen Katie Slater, Madison Harris, Araceli Leon and Bella Poole.
Many of the Seminoles competing on the women’s side have competed at the ARP as Florida high school products.
Braman is taking a similar approach to Harvey, sitting out his top four finishers from last week’s impressive fourth-place finish at the Notre Dame Invitational. Redshirt sophomores Stanley Linton, Otniel Teixeira and Max del Monte – all Florida high school products – will be joined by teammates Michael Hall, Grant Nykaza, Bryce Kelley and Abdin Fator.
“We’re running all but four and it’s going to be a little bit of a controlled effort, because we have a big one next week,” Braman said. “We also have some guys who fighting for ACC top-10 spots. We’ll have guys running for lifetime bests and we’ll have guys running a little more controlled, saving a little for Wisconsin….
“If you take your first four off the board, it’s going to be a little bit challenging. It’s also a great experience for them to get to on this course because we’re going to be back here Nov. 14 and that’s going to be for real.”
Saturday’s 10-race high school schedule begins with the Elite boys 5000-meter race at 7:40 a.m., followed by the Elite girls at 8:05 a.m.
You can follow the action throughout the weekend via Twitter @FSU_XCountry and check back with Seminoles.com for a complete recap. Results will be posted at the completion of each race at www.halfmiletiming.com.