NOTRE DAME, Ind. – A staple on the Florida State cross country schedule for nearly two decades, the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational has traditionally provided the Seminoles with their first competitive challenge of the season.
That remains the case this season, even though the depth of ranked teams competing in Friday’s 63rd running of the meet has been greatly impacted by a crowded national schedule, most notably the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational. Even with 19 nationally ranked men’s teams and 15 more on the women’s side getting a look at the NCAA Championship course in Madison, Wisc., the unbeaten Noles will be tested.
The FSU women get Friday’s schedule started with a 5000-meter race around the Burke Golf Course, beginning at 1 p.m. The Noles will be pitted against a 20 other teams, led by No. 11 BYU, No. 12 Furman, No. 21 California and No. 22 host Notre Dame, in addition to Duke and Clemson from the ACC.
“It will be good just to see how we stack up,” FSU junior Megan Mooney said. “Seeing where we are against ranked teams will be a confidence-booster, because I think we have some good things coming.”
The Noles finished 11th here last year, led by Mooney’s 35th-place finish in a 5000-meter personal-best of 17:07.8.
“I’m in a super good mindset going into the race,” Mooney added. “I’m really excited because I’ve had success here in the past and I feel like our team has been building and growing. Coach Kelly [Phillips’] plan for this year is really starting to pan out.
“The workouts have been good, setting us up for success on Friday.”
As four-time champions, FSU is looking for its best finish at Notre Dame since reeling off three consecutive team titles (2011-13). Phillips has targeted a top-five finish – or better – as the goal.
Senior Militsa Mircheva, a two-time winner already, and freshman Elizabeth Funderburk (two runner-up finishes) have led the way early on but the Seminoles’ best depth in Phillips’ four seasons will ultimately determine how well the group performs collectively.
“Our past two races have really helped us run as a pack and I think that will help us going into the future; being able to work together in races and finding each other in big crowds,” Mooney said. “It will come more naturally and help us race better, run faster and get less points.”
Florida State’s men will have fewer teams, ranked or otherwise, to contend with in the 1:45 p.m. 5-mile race around course. The 17-team men’s field is headlined by No. 2 BYU – third at the 2017 NCAA Championships – and No. 28 Furman.
The smaller field could be advantageous to coach Bob Braman’s nine-man lineup, which includes only three athletes who have competed at Notre Dame before.
“With how young our top five is…it will be more of a middle-ground transition to the more competitive races, like when we go on to Wisconsin in two weeks,” said junior Steven Cross, who will be racing at Notre Dame for a third time.
Cross ran his 5-mile personal-best (24:56.6) as a freshman in 2016, but not without some difficulties.
“I actually fell here my freshman year,” Cross said. “I took a spill about 400 meters in. I was dead-last right off the bat and I had some ground to make up. I’m excited for it. I feel better than I have running in a long time – at least over the last year. I feel a lot more energized, so I’m excited to go out there, give a great effort and see where I am.”
That holds true for the team collectively as well. After easy team wins at the Covered Bridge Open and against Boston University, with redshirt freshman Caleb Pottorff collecting individual titles, the Noles will have an opportunity to measure themselves against solid competition.
Pottorff, Paul Stafford, Matthew Newland and Tyler Dau – all freshmen – will be able to key off veterans like Cross, fellow junior Tyson Murray and senior Istvan Szogi, who ran 24:28.4 here as a freshman competing at Southern Utah.
“I think it kind of benefits us,” Cross said. “Even if we don’t get the [at-large NCAA] points that we try to get normally here, we’ll be able to see those teams and it won’t be as congested as it normally is. It won’t be as hectic, but it will give guys a good feel for what it’s like racing against competitive teams.”
You can follow the Noles throughout the competition via Twitter @FSUXC and check back at Seminoles.com Friday evening for a complete recap of the competition.