TALLAHASSEE – The cross country postseason is at hand and based on their performances at Saturday’s Under Armour Pre-National Invitational, Florida State’s Elizabeth Funderburk and Kasey Knevelbaard are poised for breakouts.
Funderburk, a sophomore, placed 11th overall in a field of more than 250 runners which included 10 nationally ranked teams – four of the top eight – including six ACC schools. The Moultrie, Ga. native recorded a personal-best time of 20:29.1 in her first 6,000-meter race of the season.
Knevelbaard was equally impressive in the men’s 8,000-meter race, finishing 15th overall while recording the fastest time of his career (23:47.3) over that distance. Against a field of more than 250 and including 10 nationally ranked teams – three of the top four – he was the first of 35 ACC runners across the finish line. Among those he beat were defending ACC champion Peter Seufer of Virginia Tech and Louisville standout Emmanuel Cheboson; recording the highest finish by a conference runner competing at either the Pre-National or Nuttycombe Invitational meets.
With their prelude performances to the Nov. 1 ACC Championships, Funderburk and Knevelbaard were recognized Wednesday as ACC Performers of the Week. Funderburk shared the honor with Notre Dame’s Anna Rohrer, who placed 10th at the Nuttycombe Invitational.
In the case of both runners competing at the testy LaVern Gibson Championship Course, site of the Nov. 23 NCAA Championships, they asserted themselves early into the lead pack and refused to give in to torrid race paces.
“She ran really well, but like she said, she told me she was going to,” FSU women’s coach Kelly Phillips said of Funderburk, who paced the No. 10 Noles to a fifth-place team finish. “I loved that answer…It’s cool. I like her confidence. Her confidence is coming back. After she got E. coli this summer, she was a little nervous about being able to come back in time.
“I kept saying that it was going to be a blessing to be [fit] later. She’s strong right now.”
It is Funderburk’s first career ACC Performer of the Week honor. She was a two-time Freshman Performer of the Week in 2018, when she went on to finish 15th at the ACC Championships and eighth at the NCAA South Regional, helping the Noles return to the NCAA Championships for the first time since 2014.
Knevelbaard, a graduate transfer from Southern Utah, ran with a lead pack of 20 that stayed together for the better part of 6,000 meters. It proved to be a perfect recipe for a 16-second personal best over 8,000 meters, and his second head-to-head win over Seufer this season.
“Kasey has just quietly moved up the ladder of the top ACC individuals,” FSU men’s coach Bob Braman, whose team parlayed a sixth-place finish to a nine-spot jump in the national rankings to No. 21. “We kind of planned it this way. He had a big season on the track and went all the way into July and we kind of said, ‘OK, we’re not trying to be at the top [early in the season], we’re trying to arrive at the top.’”
The Caruthers, Calif. native raced against a pair of elite 1500-meter fields in July before a short break and the onset of cross country training, while acclimating himself to the heat and humidity of Florida. Knevelbaard has adjusted nicely, winning his FSU debut at the Covered Bridge Open in late August – which also earned him ACC Performer of the Week honors – while finishing as the Noles’ No. 1 runner in each of the next three races.
“We pushed his training back and he’s climbed up the ladder and all of a sudden he’s one of the ACC favorites,” Braman said. “You’d probably say Seufer, the defending champion on his home course, is going to have to wear the crown. Kasey with his miler speed, [Notre Dame’s] Yared Nuguse with his miler speed and [Wake Forest’s Zach] Fancioni, who was second last year, those are all people who come to mind with a chance to win.
“We’re just excited to have a guy who could win it; a guy that could pull a Lemoncello.”
Andrew Lemoncello, the Scottish star who represented Great Britain at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in addition to multiple World Championships on the track and in cross country, is the lone Seminole to win an ACC cross country title. He was the back-to-back champion in 2004 and 2005.
Funderburk heads into the postseason with sights set on her own significant achievements.
“She’s talked about wanting to be All-American and what it’s going to take,” Phillips said. “She’s had Militsa [Mircheva] to follow. Whatever Militsa did last year she said she wanted to do her sophomore year, which is a pretty big thing to bite off, but she means it.”
A determined performance in Terre Haute, Ind. provided further validation of a fitness level capable of achieving that goal.
“That’s the first time I’ve seen her race in a big field like that,” Phillips said. “Fom early on in the race, you could tell, she knew she belonged. That’s a different face. It is one thing to try it, but it’s another to know it. She knows it now. That’s pretty exciting. I can’t wait to see her at nationals.”