VERONA, Wisc. – As preludes to the championship portion of the cross country season, Friday’s Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational is the perfect preview for what lies ahead.
The fields the Florida State men and women will be facing are ridiculously deep in talent, large enough to perfectly simulate the 31-team NCAA Championship races and contested over a true measure of midseason form by the rolling and well-groomed Thomas Zimmer Championship Course.
FSU’s teams enter the meet with similar goals – hunting top-20 finishes or better – but from different vantage points.
Coach Kelly Phillips’ women’s steam has been steadily improving since the start, to the point that they are ranked third in the South Region and are receiving votes in the USTFCCCA national rankings. They will have an even better gauge of where they stand at the conclusion of the 6,000-meter race, which includes 16 of the top 30 teams in the most recent rankings.
“I’m so excited,” said FSU freshman Jodie Judd, who has been the team’s No. 2 runner in each of the past three meets. “I feel like we’ve been training so well, that it’s so great just to do it. We’ve been thinking about doing these races for so long, to finally get to a race where it’s so big…it’s going to be fun.”
When the starting gun sounds at 1:20 p.m. (ET), Judd will be one of six Noles who will be racing at Wisconsin for the first time. The only veteran of the group is sophomore Megan Mooney, who finished 121st last season, when the Noles placed 26th out of 31 teams.
Phillips said there are a few keys to being successful with such a young group:
“Running smart, knowing where you are, where your teammates are and being with your people,” the third-year coach said, rattling them off. “In a meet like this, if we’re good at that we can do well as a team. Doing well and being in the top 20 would be pretty darn good. I think we were good at Notre Dame. I think everybody was OK with it, but I don’t think anybody was super happy with it…If we can take one step a little sharper, I think we can have a good meet.”
So does Mooney, who has been looking forward to this meet since last year, and has transitioned from rookie to one of FSU’s top runners and team leaders.
“Coming out of Notre Dame we kind of regrouped, got some good training in and we’re all ready to hopefully turn some heads this weekend,” Mooney said. “I’d definitely say it’s exciting. The momentum is building, getting ready for championship season, and I think good things are coming….
“Now knowing the course and knowing what a 6k is like and being in other large races with a lot of top runners, I think it will really benefit me this year being experienced. I’ve got a good group of girls running beside me.”
Those girls are also leaning on Mooney’s experience.
“Whenever we get nervous she settles us down and tells us what it’s going to be like,” Judd said of Mooney. “It’s so helpful because otherwise we would be going in blind. This way we can ask questions. It’s really reassuring. Megan calms us down a lot.”
The Florida State men enter their 8,000-meter race (2 p.m., ET) with something to prove, having slid all the way to No. 9 in the South Region rankings, which is no way is representative of the talent on the roster.
To that end, they are looking forward to a little redemption after a stumble at Notre Dame, while building on last week’s strong, controlled performance at the FSU Invitational.
“I believe this is the most important race aside from conference and nationals, simply because we have 20 of the top 30 teams in the nation here,” said senior Michael Hall. “For us moving the needle forward, we need the confidence right now. If we can come out here and perform the way we know we can it will really help with a confidence boost heading into championship season.”
Men’s coach Bob Braman isn’t about to start mashing the panic button. He is confident in his team’s base training and the personnel he’s sending to the line, which includes five runners with previous experience here.
“Every one of our preseason goals, we can check all the boxes tomorrow,” Braman said. “Everything we planned on doing – to get wins, go into conference on a high note and be in a position going into regions to not have run with our hair on fire. Everything is right in front of us. While I don’t think we’re in position to do what we’re going to do late in the year, I do think we’re in position to get wins and if you beat half the field in a meet like this, you’re going to get the necessary wins.”
Mimicking the women’s field, there are five top-10 men’s teams of the 35 competing, and 15 others between Nos. 11-30. Those will be the primary targets for the Noles, who are feeling a lot better after last Friday’s race at home.
“After last week’s performance at the home meet, guys are really excited to get out here and compete well because we had been tired much of the front half of the season,” Hall said. “Now are legs are starting to come around. We’re starting to transition the workouts. Guys can see the change happening. It’s hard to wrap your mind around, ‘A change is going to come’ without seeing physical evidence of it. After performing well, I believe the guys understand things are starting to change and we can come out here and perform quite well.”
“I think our focus was real good in that workout and if our focus in this race is as good as it was at the FSU Invitational, I think we’ll have a top 20 finish.”
Flotrack will provide a live stream of the races to subscribers at http://www.flotrack.org/event/256148-2017-nuttycombe-wisconsin-xc-invitational and live results will also be available at go.wisc.edu/2017nutty.
You can also keep pace with the Noles via Twitter @FSUXC and check back with Seminoles.com for a complete recap.