TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – Two weeks after a 10th-place finish at the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational put the Florida State men’s cross country team back in the national rankings, coach Bob Braman is looking for his squad to take the next step at Saturday’s Under Armour Pre-National Meet.
The Noles, ranked 30th in the most recent USATFCCCA national poll, are among 10 nationally ranked men’s teams. BYU (No. 2), Colorado (No. 3), Washington (No. 4) and South Region rival Ole Miss (No. 8) headline the 38-team field, but there are potential NCAA Championship at-large points to be won against ranked squads outside the top-10 as well.
“This happens to be the course we’re running on at nationals, but we need to compete,” said Braman, whose men will tackle the 8,000-meter LaVern Gibson Championships Course at 11:35 a.m. “We need to build on the Notre Dame race and get some points. This is the perfect high-intensity, get-ready for ACCs race. This is the sandwich, but it’s the sandwich with a lot of meat in it.
“I think this suits our young, experience-wise, squad. This meet, like Notre Dame, fits us better.”
FSU women’s coach Kelly Phillips, whose 11th-ranked squad is coming off a third-place finish at Notre Dame, also used a food analogy when discussing the goals for her squad.
“[Since Notre Dame] they’ve continued to step up,” Phillips said. “They’re getting stronger and training hard. They’re doing all the right things off the track. They’re super committed and hungry. It’s time to eat.”
The Noles women will start things off at 11:00 a.m., competing in their first 6,000-meter race of the season over the rolling terrain at the venerable course. FSU will find plenty of competition from a field of 37 teams which includes No. 2 BYU, No. 3 Colorado, No. 7 Michigan and No. 8 Washington, but also Boise State, Ole Miss, Illinois, Boston College and Virginia Tech among the nationally ranked.
“We’re trying to see the course because no one has ever been on this course before, which is fun,” Phillips said. “And we’re trying to get out there and compete. The teams that weren’t at Notre Dame are here, which is nice so we’re not running a repeat of the same teams we did a week ago.
“We need to get out with the top group and prepare for championship time. While this isn’t championship time just yet, it’s time to race hard. This will be our first true cross country 6k.”
Neither team has experience on the course at the specific racing distances, but Braman isn’t concerned with that lack of experience.
“This is a very nice course; well-manicured,” he said. “The weather is going to be perfect. There’s no factors other than mano-on-mano and that’s probably the right place for us now.”
Grad transfer Kasey Knevelbaard ran here at the 2016 NCAA Championships, but that was a 10k test; one that he’s better prepared for now as a fifth-year college student.
“It’s a pretty historic course,” Knevelbaard said. “A lot of people have run on it a lot of times, so you can definitely compare. I think it’s a great opportunity for our team. There are a ranked teams that are really good, so we can get some points and beat some teams we’re better than. It’s a fair course, pretty challenging, but not crazy.”
And to that end, he hopes to mix it up with the front pack to get a measure of where he stands nationally.
“Notre Dame was a bit of a shock to the system, but now I know what’s going to happen and what to expect,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity to compare myself to some of the best people in the nation, so I’m hoping for a good finish.”
Sophomore Elizabeth Funderburk is equally excited for the opportunity, both for another shot at some ranked teams, but also a chance to test herself over her preferred 6k distance.
“I think we’re in a really good position now,” Funderburk said. “We have a lot of confidence coming off of Notre Dame. This will be a different type of race. It’s a little bit longer and kind of more “true cross country” with the rolling hills. I think we’re ready. We’ve been working hard and have got some good workouts in. I think we might surprise some people tomorrow.
“I had a good race at Notre Dame, but this is more of my style – a little bit longer and kind of a little more a grind than Notre Dame, which is more of a track race. I’m excited to race against good competition and see where I stack up as an individual.”