BOONE, N.C. – Successfully defending her title, senior Militsa Mircheva led a meet-clinching, 1-2-3 finish for the Florida State women, while redshirt freshman Caleb Pottorff’s winning debut was pacing the tightly-knight Seminole men to victory at Friday’s Covered Bridge Open.
By effectively executing similar race plans, the Seminole women and men came away from their traditional season-opener with their 10th team titles in their 18th appearance at the meet in the last 19 years.
A 30-minute lightening delay was merely preempting a dominant effort by the women, who were packing up according to coach Kelly Phillips’ instruction. Pulling away on the climb at the two-mile mark, Mircheva came racing home in 16:50.25, lopping a few seconds off her 2017 winning time (16:53.2) over 5000 meters. It was the sixth consecutive win by an FSU woman at the meet, and also the fastest by a Seminole around Kennedy Trails.
“For me it was really important to help the group stick together and kind of do a good workout,” Mircheva said. “I’m happy about my race.”
Heralded freshman Elizabeth Funderburk’s collegiate debut was no less rousing as the Colquitt County High standout’s transitioning 17:03.80 was not only her fastest 5k, but good for second place. Sophomore Maudie Skyring’s third-place showing (17:29.44) was more than a minute faster than her best over the same distance last year.
“I wasn’t really nervous just because it’s a pretty small race,” Funderburk said. “I’m glad I got to start out with a race like this and be surrounded by my teammates for most of the race. That definitely made it feel more comfortable…
“That was amazing. In high school I never had a chance to experience that. This is really fun having such a good team.”
The Seminoles’ second wave of finishers was equally impressive. Less than three seconds were separating redshirt freshman Kayla Easterly (18:01.99), Sarah Candiano (18:03.29), Megan Mooney (18:03.34) and Hailey Hendry (18:04.20), who were occupying finishing spots 10-13.
“They all stuck to their plan; they ran with their packs and looked really good and comfortable,” Phillips said. “The majority of them still ended up running faster than they did a year ago…
“Militsa ran really under control. She was never in trouble. And Elizabeth Funderburk, she is just going to keep getting better. That was a really good race. Maudie is fit and she looked tremendous.”
The Noles were 27-32 winners over host Appalachian State, the defending Southern Conference champions, with the two teams accounting for 14 of the top 15 finishing spots in the nine-team field.
“That’s what is going to make a difference at the end of the season, if we can keep that pack mentality throughout the season when it actually gets tougher we’ll be good,” said Phillips, whose women stuck three more in the top 20 and had 12 of 13 finishers in the top 26 against a field of 95 finishers.
“This year we have a goal to make nationals, so having your teammates right behind you is really encouraging,” Mircheva said.
With Braman deploying only six men for the race, the strategy was to stick together through two miles before accelerating to the top of the ridge and the three-mile mark before bringing home to the finish at 8000 meters.
Pottorff, competing for the first time in cross country since winning Florida Gatorade Performer of the Year honors as a high school senior in the fall of 2016, had no shortage of dance partners in garnet as the plan was unfolding.
With Toby Hardwick, a redshirt senior making his FSU cross country debut, and senior Istvan Szogi in tow, they broke the field on the descent en route to authoring a 1-2-4 finish. Pottorff was the winner in 25:12.20 with Hardwick second in 25:15.40 and Szogi fourth in 25:32.63.
Redshirt sophomore Bert Freire (25:48.20), Tyson Murray (25:56.66) and Tyler Dau (26:09.17) put the finishing touches on a surprising wide 26-41 margin over the host Appalachian State men, placing seventh, 13th and 19th, respectively.
“I was real pleased,” FSU men’s coach Bob Braman said. “It was a lot faster than last year, but last year was a bit sloppier. I didn’t think anybody would run under 25:30 and we had two under that and three right at it. We wanted to see some development from the guys who have been working hard, trying to move up a level. Ty Murray and Bert [Freire] were really good today.”
“They did exactly what they were supposed to do.”
Using a strong kick over the final 400 meters was the difference between Pottorff and Hardwick; perhaps the residual effect of a sitting out a redshirt season.
“Following the plan, controlling the first two miles, working the hill and then coming back strong, everything fell into place perfectly,” Pottorff said. “Just knowing two years ago was my last cross country race, it’s rewarding knowing all the work pays off.”
And having teammates all pulling together was certainly no small part of the pay off.
“The other big benefit, and you saw this from the women as well, was the kids were working together,” Braman added. “You felt like they were a team.”
“We’ve got a bunch of brothers out there running together,” Pottorff said. “Turning and seeing Toby next to me and Isti just behind us; it’s a big group of buds working together all for the same goal.”
“We’ve just been grinding all summer, trying to get the strength in,” said the Iowa State transfer, who joined the men’s distance program in January. “We wanted to execute and pull each other along…We wanted to get all six in the top 10, but 1-2-4 was OK with me.
“We’ve really developed as a team and as a friendship. We’ll do anything for each other and when it comes to racing, the terms don’t change.”
The Noles will return to action Sept. 14 in a dual meet against Boston University and historic Franklin Park in Boston, Mass., site of the 2018 ACC Championship meet.