TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida State’s quest to return its women’s and men’s cross country teams to the NCAA Championships for the first time in a few years will run through the Seminoles’ home course Friday morning at Apalachee Regional Park.
Hosting the NCAA South Region Championships for the fourth time on the 10-year old course, the Noles – women and men – figure to be in the thick of the battle for top-two team finishes, which would ensure a trip to Madison, Wisc. for next Saturday’s NCAA Championships.
“There’s a lot of excitement,” said fourth-year FSU women’s coach Kelly Phillips, whose women will get the racing started at 8:30 a.m. “The girls couldn’t be more excited. I’ve never seen this much energy on a team since I’ve been here. The course is in great shape. It will be fun.”
Phillips is trying to get the Noles back to the NCAA meet as a team for the first time since 2014 and the first time under her watch. Ranked No. 3 in the South Region and coming off a strong fourth-place finish at the ACC Championships, they will battle Florida, Ole Miss, Georgia and Georgia Tech for the top two spots over the 6,000-meter race.
“There are about five teams all going for two spots,” Phillips said. “Whoever has the better day is going to finish in those top two spots.”
The competition in the men’s 10,000-meter race (9:30 a.m.) may be even more intense, largely because SEC champion Ole Miss is the clear-cut favorite, leaving the Noles among a handful of teams likely battling for one spot.
“When it’s razor thin, like it appears it’s going to be…it’s a do-or-die, survive-and-advance deal,” said FSU men’s coach Bob Braman. “I think that’s the same for Tennessee, Belmont and North Florida. That’s not the same for Ole Miss. They’re outstanding…
“If you’re going to have that competition you’ll take any advantage you can get, and certainly being at home is an advantage. People are going to be yelling for us. We have five of our seven who ran their high school state meet here; maybe several times.”
The Seminole women made nine consecutive trips to the NCAA Championships between 2006-2014, posting six consecutive top-four finishes and two others inside the top 12. The current squad is led by senior Militsa Mircheva, freshman Elizabeth Funderburk and sophomore Maudie Skyring, and backed by a strong pack of underclassmen in Megan Mooney, Jodie Judd and Jen Lima.
“Any time, our sixth and seventh runners could be our third and fourth, which is a good spot,” Phillips said, recognizing the importance of having a strong five in a tightly-contested field. “The depth is good. The excitement is good.”
Braman’s men, who made 12 NCAA Championship appearances during a 13-year stretch (2003-2015), have historically been ready when the distance shifts from 8,0000 to 10,000 meters in the championship season. In All-ACC redshirt freshman Caleb Pottorff and junior Steven Cross, he has two of the fastest over that distance on the track in program history.
The Noles also have the benefit of senior Toby Hardwick, who made two NCAA Championship appearances at Iowa State before transferring to FSU. Senior Istvan Szogi, redshirt junior Tyson Murray and freshmen Paul Stafford and Matthew Newland, round out the lineup, and all are best-suited for the longer distances.
Now it’s a matter of cashing in on an opportunity to get ahead of the learning curve at a young age.
“It’s one of those rare years when it’s not as clear-cut,” said Braman, now in his 19th season at the helm. “It’s going to make it great for spectators to see a do-or-die desperation deal, rather than some of the boring ones from the early 2000s or 2010s, where we held people out and ran in training flats.
“I hope we feel the sense of opportunity and the sense of urgency, and if we do we’ll get a chance to do something that was highly unpredictable for this group at the beginning of the year. I feel good about it.”
Admission to the meet is free and there is no charge for parking. And for those who can’t make it out on a work day, the races will be streamed live on NCAA.com.
You can follow the action via Twitter @FSUXC and check back at Seminoles.com for a complete recap and highlights.