MADISON, Wisc. – Florida State senior Militsa Mircheva arrived at Saturday’s NCAA Cross Country Championships with a tried-and-true race plan and plenty of motivation. A little snow on the ground was not going to deter the Bulgarian.
Methodically working her way through the field at the Zimmer Championship Course, Mircheva joined the Seminoles’ list of elite All-Americans, placing 25th in her final collegiate cross country race. The South Region champion finished in 20:26.3 over the 6,000-meter course to collect FSU’s 24th all-time All-American honor and first since 2014.
“I think it was a fair day,” said the hard-to-please Mircheva. “I made some mistakes, but overall I feel like I did a fair job.”
Mircheva’s performance was the highlight of day for the two-team Florida State contingent. She led the women’s team to a 26th-place effort in their first appearance at the meet since 2014. The men, back at the championship meet for the first time since 2015, placed 31st.
An overnight snow left about an inch covering the course as temperatures rose slightly above freezing before the first gun of the day sounded. Neither the snow, nor the fast early pace by the women’s leaders, deterred Mircheva’s race plan. She was 81st at 2,000 meters, but jetted into 33rd by the 4,000-meter split.
“I didn’t think it was quite hard to move forward, because if you go out a little more conservatively you have more energy at the end of the race,” Mircheva said. “I could also say I went a little bit faster today, so I didn’t have too much left.”
FSU women’s coach Kelly Phillips shared a big embrace with Mircheva as she emerged from the media tent.
“She was amazing,” Phillips said. “Last year she was so disappointed by not being here. That was going to be our year like, getting the experience and then you come the next year to get All-American. Since we didn’t get the experience she decided she was getting it done anyway.
“Top 25 is pretty darn good. We talked about it, that she could do it, but talking about it and actually doing it are kind of different.”
None of the seven Seminole women on the starting line had competed at the NCAA Championships prior to Saturday’s race, which proved to be a learning experience.
Sophomore Maudie Skyring (131st, 21:20.5), freshman Elizabeth Funderburk (152nd, 21:27.8) and Jodie Judd (176th, 21:38.5) held down finishing positions 2-4 for the Noles, while sophomore Jen Lima (233rd, 22:25.1) accounted for the fifth scoring spot. Junior Megan Mooney (236th, 22:29.7) and senior Althea Hewitt (248th, 22:57.4) rounded out the Noles.
“They’ve done such a great job all year,” Phillips said. “It wasn’t a great race for us, but with everybody being their first time…they didn’t get out and then couldn’t move and do anything. I can get angry, but the reality of it is that it is just [a lack of] experience. They have to get more experience.
“It’s been a great season. Twenty-sixth is not great but it’s better than where we were last year sitting in Tallahassee.”
The Seminole men suffered a similar fate, caught behind the fast-starting crowd and never getting into the thick of the competition. Junior Steven Cross finished in the No. 1 spot for the Noles for the first time this season (176th, 31:19.2), followed by freshman Paul Stafford (193rd, 31:31.0) and redshirt freshman Caleb Pottorff (207th, 31:48.5).
“The tank was empty after regions,” FSU men’s coach Bob Braman said. “I thought we could put it together one more time, but we left it all at the ARP.”
The Noles advanced for the first time since 2015 by finishing second at the South Region meet last Friday on their home course; an emotional breakthrough for the program.
“The weather was a challenge, but we handled it OK,” Braman added. “We were just a tired team.”
Senior Toby Hardwick (220th, 32:07.7), redshirt junior Tyson Murray (229th, 32:28.9) and freshman Matthew Newland (242nd, 32:53.3) rounded out the Noles’ finishers. Senior Istvan Szogi did not finish.
Phillips and Braman both hope their teams learn from the experience and capitalize on the next opportunity, much like Mircheva did when she failed to qualify for the 2017 NCAA Championships following a sub-par finish at the South Region meet.
“Last year I was in pretty good shape but I had a pretty bad race at regionals, so this feels like I finally put all the pieces together,” Mircheva said.
“She’s pretty determined,” Phillips added. “She’s been determined for two years. She’s had her eye on the prize and never stops thinking about the next race.”