TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With Hurricane Michael bearing down, Tuesday was escape day for the Florida State cross country teams.
Just one day after county officials cancelled the FSU Invitational/Pre-State meet at Apalachee Regional Park, wiping out the largest meet to on their 10-year-old home course, the Noles were headed to safety and alternate competition destinations.
One group was on its way to Birmingham, Ala. where coach Bob Braman’s men and a small women’s team will seek refuge before competing at Friday’s UAB Blazer Classic in Montevallo, Ala.
“We’re grateful that UAB allowed us late entry into their meet,” Braman said. “Most of our guys are really ready to race, but for those that are dinged up it’s great that they can stay close to home and get treatment.
“The bonus is that we can get our team out of harm’s way by getting out of town.”
The competition won’t be bad either as eight of the 13 NCAA Division I teams entered in the meet were late additions, after originally committing to competing at the FSU Invitational, including South Region foes Alabama, Tennessee and Florida A&M.
Meanwhile, women’s coach Kelly Phillips packed seven runners from her 25th-ranked team into a couple vehicles and drove to Atlanta, where they will catch a flight to Madison, Wisc. on Wednesday in advance of Saturday’s Pre-National Championship meet.
There will be no shortage of competition lining up at the Zimmer Championship Course, which will host the NCAA Championships on Nov. 17. A total of 71 women’s teams – 20 of whom are ranked among the top 30 nationally – have been split into two races. The Noles are one of 10 ranked teams competing in the 11 a.m. (ET) Cardinal Race from a field of 35.
Florida State has been competing at Wisconsin for a number of years, but there’s a different feel this time around for Phillips’ women, who will be racing 6,000 meters for the first time this season.
“We’re actually going there and plan on being back [in November],” Phillips said. “I know it’s supposed to be about [at-large] points, but for me, I just went to get in there and learn how to compete with good people. If you want to be good you’ve got to compete against the best…
“They’ve been competing really well and training really well as a group, and really learning how to pack run. If they can do that there, we’ll be in really good shape.”
FSU’s competition in the Cardinal Race includes No. 1 Colorado as well as Oregon (4), Arkansas (7), BYU (9), Indiana (11), NC State (13), Ole Miss (18), Minnesota (21) and Portland (23).
“I’m just excited to be at this race because of the many fast teams that are going to be there, which is very beneficial for the team,” said senior Militsa Mircheva, who has been the Noles’ top finisher in each of the first three meets. “Everyone has progressed so much and so fast. I’ve seen such improvement in the team’s culture and team goals. Everyone is so dedicated.”
And the Noles are clearly riding the momentum of their first national ranking since the 2014 regular season, following their third-place finish at the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational two weeks ago.
“After last week and being ranked, it made us real excited and makes us want to push through this last month of hard training before regionals and prove what we have in the bag,” said junior Megan Mooney. “After seeing the race assignments as well we have some teams we want to get out there, got after and prove that we have what it takes.”
Phillips’ squad arrives as healthy and fresh as they have been all season, which should provide them with a good measuring stick for where they currently stand and where they need to be with the ACC Championships and the home NCAA South Region Championships next on the horizon.
“I’m really excited that Ole Miss is in our race,” Phillips said of the Rebels, who are ranked one spot in front of the Noles in the South Region. “We’ll know exactly where we are. There will be no mystery. That will be good.”
In Montevallo on Friday, Braman hopes to get some quality work in against some good competition in the men’s final tune-up for the ACC Championships. A handful of Noles have been nursing aches and pains, which led Braman to pull his squad from the Pre-National meet. Still, the youthful men’s squad, led by Caleb Pottorff and Steven Cross, needs the work.
The six women competing at the UAB Blazer Classic aren’t only battling the field. The final three spots on the 10-member ACC roster are up for grabs and Sarah Candiano, Fatema Jaffer, Ellie Wallace, Erin Phelps, Hailey Hendry and Kate Bernicke will have one last opportunity to make their cases.
The women’s 6,0000-meter race at the course adjacent to the Alabama Traffic Safety Center is set for 10:30 a.m. (ET) and will be followed by the men’s 8,000-meter event at 11:15.
You can follow all of the action over the course of two days via Twitter @FSUXC and check back with Seminoles.com for a complete recap.