NOTRE DAME, Ind. – There was no shortage of bright spots for the Florida State women’s cross country team at Friday’s 62nd running of the Joe Piane Invitational at Notre Dame.
The Seminoles finished 11th out of 20 teams in their first test of the season against the nation’s strongest assembled field to date, knocking off a pair of ACC rivals and a South Region foe in the process. Most encouragingly, three of the Noles’ top four finishers were freshmen or sophomores.
Sophomore Megan Mooney led the way, placing 35th in the deep field, covering the rocket-fast Burke Golf Course track in 17:07.8. Freshman Jodie Judd was on Mooney’s heels, placing 39th (17:10.3), while fellow frosh Addi Coggins was 80th (17:47.0).
“We’ve got a lot of good young pieces,” said FSU women’s coach Kelly Phillips. “We were good but not great today and I guess if you’re not going to be great, today is the day to do it. They were solid all of the way through.”
Junior Militsa Mircheva, who won the first two meets of the season in runaway fashion, was FSU’s third finisher in 17:40.8 (66th). Senior Emily Edwards’ gritty 84th-place finish (17:48.8) rounded out the Seminoles’ scoring five.
“Militsa had a little bit of a tough day,” Phillips said. “This is the first time she’s had to be around people so I think it might have thrown her, so I think she learned from it.
“Addi Coggins was phenomenal. She ran really well. We had a good pack and moving forward as we get to Wisconsin, if MIlitsa is back where she belongs we’re a very good team.”
Though courses differ drastically, four of FSU’s top five finishers registered cross country personal-bests for 5,000 meters. So did junior Althea Hewitt (18:08.1), who was the Noles’ sixth finisher and 111th overall.
Mooney, who shaved 16 seconds and 37 positions off her 2016 finish at Notre Dame, was ecstatic over her individual effort and encouraged by how she and her teammates performed.
“Last year I PR’d from high school by about 10 seconds, so this year I was looking for another big PR, which came,” the Colorado native said. “Knowing the course and knowing how well I ran last year really boosted my confidence for this year…I definitely did not get a good start, so just staying calm helped me a lot and I knew I had a lot of time to make up ground.”
Mooney and Edwards were the only two Noles who had previously raced the course, which is not only tight and fast, but on this day was jammed with seven nationally ranked teams including No. 1 Colorado, No. 3 New Mexico and No. 6 NC State, which finished 1-2-3.
“Now that we have this big race out of the way, when we get to other big races like ACC’s and Regionals, with less people than this one, we will be able to focus more on what the goal is and run more as a team,” Mooney said. “We will be able to find each other. We know what we have and we can do it.”
Phillips believes Friday’s race experience will carry over.
“This will get them to say, ‘OK, this is where we are and this is where we need to be,’” Phillips said. “They got a chance to run with two of the best teams in the country, and they want to be that. If you want to be that in a year or two, you need to get your butt kicked by them…
“We have some things we need to tweak but that’s why you come to these meets, to see what you’re missing and what you need to fix. Overall I think we leave very solid and healthy.”
There was a decidedly different tone emanating from the Seminole men, who placed 16th in the field of 21 teams.
“This is a meet I like coming to,” men’s coach Bob Braman said. “It’s high risk, high reward and we came up on the bad side of that. It’s very difficult to come here and train through it…I think we’re a tired team right now. And we’re missing two big pieces with Steven Cross having a really bad head/chest cold and Michael Callegari hasn’t come back physically from his surgery yet.
“It’s hard to have a couple of your plug-in pieces unplugged. You’ve got two non-scorers right away and then the other guys are trying to patch it together.”
David Barney led the Noles for the third consecutive meet, finished 62nd in 24:43.3 over the five-mile course. Senior Michael Hall was 73rd in 24:54.7, his best time and finish in three appearances at the Burke Golf Course, while Bryce Kelley rounded out the top three in 25:00.9 and 85th overall.
Stanley Linton (93rd, 25:06.3) and Istvan Szogi (98th, 25:08.7) accounted for the final two scoring spots among Noles, who did manage to knock off ACC foes Notre Dame and Pitt, but were well back of South Region rival Alabama and No. 30 NC State, which placed eighth and ninth.
“I know we’re a lot better team,” Braman said. “It’s a really good meet and if you’re off a little bit and you don’t suck it up and fight through you’re going to get punished. That’s what happened to us. It’s a brutal sport. When you’re tired and struggling a lot of people can beat you and your weaknesses stand out a little more than your strengths.”
That the Noles escaped the meet unscathed on the health-front, aside from Callegari pulling out of the race in the late stages as he continues his comeback from injury, was one plus. So was the fact that the top five finished within 25 seconds of each other, albeit not as fast as they will need to be moving forward.
“It’s still September,” said Braman, whose squad completed the first of three consecutive meets. “It’s no time to panic. We’ve got the home meet. Maybe this changes things for Friday. Maybe we go out to the home meet and do a little soul-searching; maybe we find out where we are and maybe we’re a little better than we were today.”
The Seminoles host the FSU Invitational on Friday, Oct. 6, with the men leading a full weekend of racing off with an 8,000-meter race at 7:40 a.m. followed by the women’s 5,000-meter race at 8:20 p.m.
Then it’s off to Wisconsin for the Nuttycombe Invitational, a meet that will be far deeper in talent than the Joe Piane Invitational, which included five nationally-ranked teams.
“This whole thing can turn in two weeks,” Braman said. “We can go to Wisconsin and be who I think we are and all of a sudden you’ve got the [NCAA qualifying] points, you’ve got the momentum and you go into the conference meet with a little bounce in your step.”