NOTRE DAME, Ind. – A fixture on the Florida State cross country schedule since 2000, the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational has been an annual, early-season measuring stick for the Noles.
That won’t be any different Friday when the Noles women and men line up to face extremely talented fields at the Burke Golf Course, which traditionally produces sizzling times.
FSU coaches Kelly Phillips and Bob Braman are equally excited to see how their teams measure up in what will be the most competitive fields they will have faced since last November’s NCAA Championships.
A year ago the FSU women finished third and the men seventh, providing the first glimpse of what would become NCAA Championship qualifying squads. And both Phillips and Braman are confident that their 2019 squads are deeper and significantly improved over a year ago.
They won’t have to wait long for verification. The Seminole women, ranked No. 17 nationally and No. 2 in the South Region, are one of 11 nationally-ranked teams in the field of 22 teams in the 5,000-meter Blue Division race, which is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. Additionally, freshmen Rebecca Clark and Ava Peeples will be competing in the open 5,000-meter race at 2:30 p.m.
The Noles men, who are receiving votes in the national poll and No. 3 in the South Region, will face a Blue Division 5-mile field which includes 12 nationally ranked squads. Race time is set for 1:45 p.m.
Among those schools competing are the preseason ACC favorites (NC State women, Notre Dame men) and the top-ranked South Region teams (Ole Miss, women and men).
“Last year here at Notre Dame was a great starting point for us to actually get out and race and see where everyone was and our fitness level,” said FSU senior Megan Mooney, who will make her fourth career race start at Notre Dame. “Our third place finish really launched us in the right direction for the rest of the season.”
Mooney, who has traditionally performed well for the Noles at Notre Dame, understands what a strong performance this time around would mean for the team.
“It will really solidify that our goals are where they should be for this season and keep that momentum going…We have some high expectations this year and I think we’re really excited to see where we’ll be tomorrow and what we can do.”
There is also an element of the unknown for the women, who last competed on Aug. 30 after travel issues prevented them from competing at Virginia Tech two weeks ago.
“It’s our first big meet of the season, so it’s exciting to finally get out and see what we all can do and where we stack up in the nation and the region,” said junior Maudie Skyring. “It’s a little nerve-wracking because we’re all coming out at such a big meet. There’s a lot of competition and it’s going to be a fast race. It might be a little bit of a shock to the system, but it’s going to be very, very exciting. I’m not too daunted by that.”
The FSU men were tested at Virginia Tech, finishing second by five points to the host Hokies on the ACC Championship course, but a tight pack behind graduate transfer Kasey Knevelbaard is the source of heightened optimism.
“Everyone is a lot more tuned into themselves this year,” said redshirt sophomore Caleb Pottorff, who was the Noles’ top finisher at Notre Dame last season. “We’re more about finishing the rep, being more together as a team; we’re not as a spread out. The deepness of the team – we have 10 runners who can all crack 25 [minutes] – and that’s a big thing right now.
“It’s an exciting atmosphere, knowing that on any given day…from 2-5, outside of Kasey, we’re all interchangeable with each other. If one person is not having a good day you’ve got somebody to pick you up. We just have to make sure we’re fighting through it.”
Like Pottorff, sophomore Paul Stafford is back for a second trip around the Notre Dame course, eager to capitalize on a year of experience and training at the collegiate level.
“Last year we attacked it and it came out well for most of us; we came away with big PRs on a course that’s not known to be difficult but will really test you because you’re really getting the engine going,” Stafford said. “You’re moving fast and the competition is top-notch.
“I’m itching for the gun to go off, because I’m really proud to see how far we’ve come. We’re worked hard all spring and summer to get to this point. When the gun goes off, all of training – the intervals at the ARP and tempos at St. Mark’s Trail – should show on the course because the training doesn’t lie.”
And in the case of both teams, wins over nationally ranked teams could account for valuable points toward an at-large berth to the NCAA Championships, should they not finished first or second at the South Region Championships.
“Grabbing a few [NCAA at-large] points is very doable,” Pottorff said. “We have the team to do that and based on our workouts right now we’re definitely at a better spot to accomplish those goals and run very well here.”
Confidence is running high.
“We’re coming into it a lot more prepared and equipped with the tools that we need to succeed here,” Stafford said.
Live updates from the course will be available via Twitter @FSUXC and a complete recap from Notre Dame will be posted at Seminoles.com.