TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – A cross country season filled with bright spots came to a close at Saturday’s NCAA Championships in the rain, mud and near freezing temperatures at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course, with Florida State’s women and men improving on their 2018 finishes.
The ninth-ranked women placed 12th in the field of 31 team, just 14 points shy of their coveted top-10 finish. Still, it marked a 14-place improvement from last season by a team that will return six of its seven finishers.
The Seminole men, who nabbed the final at-large spot to return to the NCAA Championships for the 14th time in 17 years, finished 29th overall. Sophomore Paul Stafford led the way, placing 71st in the 10,000-meter race (31:41.1); a 122-place improvement on his 2018 performance.
“We wanted a top-eight, but the reality of it is we were coming from 26th,” fifth-year women’s coach Kelly Phillips said. “It was a huge jump and an awesome season. It’s going to be a hard season to repeat because it was such a fun season.
“They all ran solid, but other than Jodie Judd and Rebecca Clark, nobody was amazing.”
Judd became the fifth different runner to lead the Noles in six major races this season, placing 62nd overall in the 6,000-meter race. The junior crossed the finish line in 21:01.5 on a day when the weather conditions clearly impacted the racing.
Close behind were junior Maudie Skyring (69th, 21:04.5) and freshman Rebecca Clark (76th, 21:06.6), who authored her second consecutive breakthrough performance. Clark was the eighth freshman in the entire field.
Sophomore Elizabeth Funderburk (101st, 21:16.5) and redshirt sophomore Addi Coggins (112th, 21:19.4) rounded out the scoring five, separated by only 18 seconds. Junior Lauren Ryan (114th, 21:20.0) and senior Megan Mooney (121st, 21:38.8) accounted for the final finishing positions.
Despite the tightly-packed finish and a hard charge over the final 4,000 meters, the Noles could not quite overcome a slow start. FSU moved up from 15th place after 2,000 meters but could not climb further up the standings, despite continuing to pick off runners through the finish.
“Going out it felt like a really fast pace,” Skyring said. “My legs were super cold and it did not feel good. I knew I just had to work my way up. I really had no idea where I was in the race. It was so chaotic…I’m very disappointed. It’s not what I wanted.”
Phillips, however, was not disappointed.
“Funderburk and Skyring didn’t have the races they’ve had all year, and that hurt a little bit, but Jodie had a better race than she’s had,” she said, as did Clark. “So it went both ways.”
Stafford saved the day for the Noles men, who were trying to avoid a second consecutive 31st-place showing. He was 102 spots in front of his nearest teammate, Kasey Knevelbaard (173rd, 32:37.5). Steven Cross (179th, 32:43.7), Silas Griffith (204th, 33:03.8) and Caleb Pottorff (207th, 33:14.3) accounted for the rest of the scoring five. Jacob Holmes (216th, 33: 33.7) and Matthew Newland (234th, 34:13.0) rounded out the lineup.
“You look at it in retrospect and if we were a little bit tougher we’re probably 25th,” Braman said. “But we were picked for 31 and we didn’t get 31, so that was something.
“Paul gets the credit for that. He ran really, really well. When your guy who runs No. 6 at the region meet gets 71st place you start thinking, ‘What are we maxed out capable of?’ Well, if they all run with Paul we’re probably top-10.”
Stafford positioned himself well in the first half of the race and moved through the pack well over the second half.
“It was just a matter of feeling as relaxed as you could through 5k,” said Stafford, whose goal was to finish in the top 100. “There were a lot of bodies around; definitely more than you’re ever used to. It was just taking advantage of those, then seeing those dead bodies come back to you the last 5k of the race and just latching on to a pack.
“I don’t remember what [kilometer] mark it was, but coach just yelled at me, ’67, 67’ and 30 yards later I see Trevor [Dunbar] and he’s yelling, ’99.’ He was just trying to get me going, but it really helped.”
Braman summed up the day this way:
“The story is, these are the most miserable conditions I’ve ever been at because there’s all the elements – cold, rain and mud – and there’s no way for a Tallahassee team to prepare for that. That shows you how good the women’s team is; how well they did under those equally horrid conditions.
“The fun side of this is we’re really looking forward to two years from now.”
Florida State will host the 2021 NCAA Championships at Apalachee Regional Park.