MADISON, Wisc. – The 25th-ranked Florida State women’s cross country team didn’t produce the kind of performance they had hoped for in Saturday’s Wisconsin Pre-Nationals Cardinal race. What the Seminoles did take away is enough information which, if acted on, could secure a Nov. 17 return trip to the Zimmer Championship Course for the NCAA Championships.
Senior Militsa Mircheva served notice once more that she will contend for NCAA All-American honors, methodically racing through the field to an 18th-place finish in 20:39.8, to lead the Noles to a 14th-place finish in the 35-team field.
While Mircheva was steadily moving up over the 6,000-meter race – she was 76th at 2,000 meters and 27th at 4,000 meters – a number of her teammates were too far back early on and could not quite duplicate the Bulgarian’s ascent through the ranks.
“We were OK,” FSU women’s coach Kelly Phillips said. “We’ve walked out of here before getting pummeled. We learned some things today. We’re better than how we finished. Our back half [of the lineup] just didn’t run aggressively enough and just had to make up too many spots.”
Freshman Elizabeth Funderburk was the Noles’ No. 2 finisher again in her 6,000-meter debut, placing 54th overall in 21:16.5 after coming through 2,000 meters in 97th position from a field of 237. Sophomore Maudie Skyring was even further back (148th) with one third of the race over, but rallied madly to place 97th in a personal-best 21:43.8.
Sophomore Jodie Judd’s first 6k in her comeback campaign produced too fast of a start – she was a team-best 59th at 2,000 meters – and a finish in the 102nd position (21:46.1). Megan Mooney was the Noles’ fifth scorer, placing 130th (22:00.7).
“Maudie was way back at the 2k, but then had a really great last 2k and made up a ton,” Phillips said. “Her teammates should have been with her.”
Jen Lima (146th, 22:14.3) and Althea Hewitt (194th, 22:54.4) rounded out the competing Noles.
Among other things learned on a chilly Saturday morning of racing:
• Ole Miss, ranked No. 18 nationally and more importantly, No. 1 in the South Region, finished 12th overall in the Cardinal race; two positions and 39 points ahead of the Noles, which came into the weekend ranked No. 2 in the South Region;
• No. 28 Georgia, which was ranked No. 3 in the South, placed ninth overall in the Women’s White Race and will almost certainly move in front of the Noles.
• With only the top two teams from the Nov. 9 South Region meet in Tallahassee assured of NCAA Championship berths, there is work to be done.
“We came to see exactly where we are in the region and we showed exactly where we are in the region,” Phillips said. “We’ve been ranked second or third and deserve to be third right now, because that’s how we ran. We can be top-two, but you’ve got to be ready to run hard.”
Mircheva once again set the standard, executing a brilliant race plan and coming away from the race encouraged that there are still better races ahead.
“I feel good because I did what I wanted to do, [starting] a little more conservative and passing more people with every next [kilometer],” Mircheva said. “However, I think I should have put in a little more effort. I felt fresh when I finished the race, which I really don’t want to feel after a 6k race.
“I’m really far from where I want to be, so it’s just kind of a process…I’m in a good spot, but I really have to move forward if I want to achieve something bigger.”
Phillips believes that’s the case for her entire lineup.
“She just ran really smart,” Phillips said of Mircheva. “She said she probably could have gone sooner, but she looked so comfortable the entire race. She ran the splits that we set…She looked tremendous.
“Funderburk looked good. She was kind of paying attention the whole time, like, ‘Where am I? Where am I?’ She could have been up further, but for her first 6k she did a nice job.”
Phillips said Skyring “looked great” over the final 2,000 meters and clearly has significant upside as the postseason being. Judd is in the process of stringing together meets and with improving health and fitness, has an opportunity to join the front pack. Mooney, a junior, has the talent, experience and track record to bounce back and tighten the pack.
Mircheva believes her teammates will respond with the ACC Championships two weeks away.
“After a bad race you’re more motivated to get there and get some work done,” Mircheva said. “This is kind of, ‘OK, we just need to work harder and be more consistent.’ That’s a good thing.”
And, Mircheva added, it wasn’t that the Noles had a bad day.
“It wasn’t enough,” she said.
“I think they learned a lot, but I think they now need to take the next step and be more aggressive in racing,” Phillips said. “I’m encouraged by some things.”