TALLAHASSEE – For the 15th time in program history and the 14th time in the last 17 seasons the Florida State men’s cross country team is headed to the NCAA Championships.
The Noles claimed one of 13 at-large berths to the field of 31 qualifying teams for the Nov. 23 title meet at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course in Terre Haute, Ind.
A disappointing fourth-place finish at Friday’s NCAA South Region meet on their home course put the Noles precariously on the bubble for one of the last spots in the field. Saturday’s streamed selection show provided both confirmation to what the team had suspected – that they had done enough work over the regular season to accumulate the necessary at-large points – and yet relief that their season-long efforts would not hinge on one sub-par performance.
“Yesterday was just crazy emotion,” said senior Steven Cross, who is headed back to the NCAA Championships for the second consecutive year. “Obviously I was upset after the race. It seemed like a longshot for us to get in; seeing us fourth up on the scoreboard behind Alabama was heartbreaking. I was starting to come to terms with my cross country career being done.
“As the day went on I kept watching the regional races and the chances got better…It came down to the very last region and Jacob [Holmes] and I were watching it. It was a nail-biter. We were pretty sure we were in, but until they said it on the screen I didn’t really believe it.”
Cross and his teammates erupted in celebration when “Florida State” appeared as the fourth school on the list of at-large qualifiers on the TV screen in the team lounge. The teams were revealed alphabetically.
— FSU Cross Country (@FSUXC) November 16, 2019
FSU is advancing for the 14th time in coach Bob Braman’s 20-year tenure because they defeated automatic qualifiers Arkansas, Georgetown, Villanova, and Virginia Tech, in addition to wins over at-large qualifiers Alabama and NC State, during the season.
They will be joined at the NCAA Championships by coach Kelly Phillips’ South Region championship-winning women’s team, which advanced for the 13th time in program history as an automatic qualifier. This will be the 10th time since 2003 that FSU will be represented by its men’s and women’s teams at the meet together.
“It’s really, really hard to be an at-large team,” Braman said. “It’s a really stressful process.”
A late-race fade by 10th-ranked UCLA in the West Region, the last region contested where the Bruins finished eighth, helped the Noles land one of the final spots in the field.
“We all know how to calculate it,” Braman said. “We have the formula…There are a lot of intricacies to the rules, but you know them going in. The bottom line is if you get four or five wins [over automatic qualifiers] you’re usually in. This year five teams had five wins at the end of the process, which is insane.
“We knew we had done some good work, but you don’t know how things are going to fall. Crazy things happen in collegiate sports when it’s a one-day decider.”
This is just the second time the FSU men have received an at-large berth to the NCAA Championships. The 2008 squad advanced from the South Region following a third-place finish, and placed 26th at the NCAA Championships.
Last year the Noles qualified to the championship meet automatically, finishing second at the South Region, but finished 31st nationally. That’s a taste the 2019 squad – with four runners back from last year – would like to get out of their mouths.
“All you can call this whole thing is a great opportunity,” Cross said. “I don’t want to say it was given to us. We got the points early in the season, but a lot of stuff had to go our way yesterday in the regions and it did. When given the opportunity, all we can do now is take advantage of it.
“There’s no reason we shouldn’t greatly improve on our position from last year. We’re in the right place. We’re much better fitness-wise and much more confident. I just think we’re a stronger, more complete team right now.”
Braman, who has endured a difficult fall which began with hip surgery and included the recent death of his brother, was especially happy for his athletes Saturday evening. And also relieved.
“We knew were better than last year but may only be fourth in the region,” Braman said. “The exhale is we knew how good this team is. We saw a little taste of it at Notre Dame and a bigger taste of it at Pre-Nationals. They’ve trained their butts off.”
He went on to add that if his team can clean up its lack of race execution while maintaining their composure, like they did when they finished sixth at the Pre-National meet a month ago on the LaVern Gibson championship course but failed to do Friday, the Noles will be in a good spot next Saturday.
And Braman has been on the big stage long enough to know.
“With the 31st-place finish [last year] and barely making it to nationals [this year] we look like a fluke right now,” Cross said. “It’s a great opportunity to prove to the nation that we aren’t, that we deserve to be there and Florida State has tradition of being there.”