TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – Saturday’s NCAA Division I Cross Country Championship women’s and men’s races each include 31 teams and 38 individual qualifiers, comprising fields of 255 of the nation’s finest distance runners.
In all, 94 schools will be represented; only 19 of which have qualified both of their teams.
Florida State is one of those schools, pulling off that feat for a second consecutive year and the 11th time in program history. Yet there is a different mindset at work for coach Kelly Phillips’ women and Bob Braman’s men in 2019, as they head into their respective 6,000- and 10,000-meter races at the LaVern Gibson Championships Course.
While there is a sense of accomplishment of reaching the destination, satisfaction will only follow with significant improvement on their 2018 championship finishes at the snowy Zimmer Course in Madison, Wisc.
The ninth-ranked women will lead things off at 11:15 a.m. (ET), with the unranked men to follow at 12:15 p.m.
One year removed from a 26th-place performance (as the 18th-ranked team) in their first NCAA Championships foray since 2014, Phillips’ women have a clear focus on the goal at hand. That wasn’t the case a year ago.
“There was definitely a lot of hype and excitement after winning regionals and I think we spent a lot of our energy being excited that we were here [at the NCAA Championships],” said junior Maudie Skyring, one of four Noles back in the lineup from that 2018 squad. “Once we got here, that was our goal. We had settled; we were happy. We didn’t have a goal we wanted to achieve at nationals, we just wanted to get to nationals.
“We went into the race obviously trying to do our best, but after the race we looked back and saw the results and were like, ‘We’re much better than that.’ Not everyone performed to the best of their ability. We didn’t race like the team we had been.”
The Noles mapped out goals for 2019, which seemed lofty at first, but now appear quite attainable.
“We sat down at camp and Coach Kelly told us what a deep team we were going to have and how she wanted us to be top-10 in the nation,” Skyring said. “We were all kind of like, ‘Whoa, that’s a big goal.’ We all thought we could do it, but I don’t know if we actually believed it yet.”
A third-place finish out of 24 teams at the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational provided a glimpse of the Noles’ new reality.
“That was when we realized we can really do this,” Skyring said.
A fifth-place finish at Pre-Nationals last month on the same course where they will race Saturday, followed by an ACC runner-up performance and a runaway South Region title provided confirmation.
“It’s really exciting that we have that ranking we’ve been working for coming into nationals,” she added. “We really know that all of our races have shown that, if we race how we’ve been racing, we can come away with that result.”
FSU’s men had to wait out last Saturday’s NCAA Selection show to find out whether they earned one of 13 at-large berths, following a fourth-place South Region finish. The Noles briefly celebrated their selection, then began to focus on a plan to prove they are better more than capable of exceeding their standing as the last team selected into the field.
The Noles earned their spot in the field by defeating four automatic qualifiers when they finished sixth out of 37 teams at Pre-Nationals, which followed a 10th-place finish at the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational.
“That tells us we’re ready,” said redshirt sophomore Caleb Pottorff, one of four returnees from the 2018 NCAA team. “We’re good and we belong here. No matter how you get here, you are a good team. We just have to put it together, do what we did on those days and we’re going to come back with some good results and we’ll all be happy.”
That wasn’t the case last season when FSU earned an automatic berth as the South Region runner-up but finished 31st.
“It’s not a fun feeling being the last team,” Pottorff said. “We came here and definitely did not do our jobs. I didn’t run well. I don’t really think any of us were pleased with what we did. Finishing last was almost what we deserved for what we did that day, but it was not the feeling you wanted to end on.”
Based on the earlier performances against quality competition and a months-long string of quality workouts from his group collectively, Braman knows his team is capable of finishing within the top-25, and perhaps the top 20.
You can follow the Noles throughout Saturday’s competition via Twitter @FSUXC.
FloTrack will stream both races live to subscribers at https://www.flotrack.org/live/8868-2019-di-ncaa-xc-championships beginning with the pre-race show at 8:09 a.m. Live results, including in-race splits and team scoring can be found here https://live.pttiming.com/xc-ptt.html?mid=1860.