NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The weather and course conditions were perfect and the depth of talent at Friday’s Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational all but guaranteed fast times.
Rising to the occasion, the Florida State women’s and men’s cross country teams delivered performances well above their projected finishes, highlighted by the third-place showing by the No. 17 Noles women.
“I’ve got to tell you I was a little surprised,” said FSU women’s coach Kelly Phillips. “I wasn’t expecting third, but I’ll take it.
“They’ve been training hard and all the pieces are there, but when it’s your first real race it could have gone a lot of different ways and a lot of bad. They went out a little bit harder than I would have liked, but they held it together. It was exciting to watch.”
FSU’s men finished 10th in the field of 22 teams, defeating No. 13 Colorado State, No. 18 Wyoming and No. 29 Alabama. Grad transfer Kasey Knevelbaard led the way, placing 19th in a personal-best 23:46.04 in his fourth competition on the 5-mile course.
The story of the day, however, was the performance of the Noles women.
Racing for the first time since Aug. 30, the FSU women took down nine nationally ranked opponents, finishing with 129 points and trailing only champion Utah (110 points) and defending NCAA champion Colorado (116). In the process the Noles defeated No. 2 New Mexico, No. 6 Washington and three-time defending ACC champions, No. 8 NC State and No. 9 Wisconsin.
They also counted victories over No. 12 Notre Dame, No. 14 Ole Miss – ranked No. 1 and one spot ahead of the Noles in the South Region – as well as No. 16 Iowa State.
“We came in ranked eighth [among teams in the field] and came away third,” said junior Maudie Skyring, who finished 17th (16:41.56) over the 5,000-meter course. “We beat some very, very good teams…This was a big sort of rust-buster for us; our first race against competition. Coming out and seeing where we can be and how we placed in the nation is very exciting. We’ve got some very big goals now. Top 10 at nationals is definitely achievable for us.
“We’re going to go home and put in a lot of work now, because everyone is going to keep getting better.”
The performance all but secures the Noles a spot at the NCAA Championships as an at-large team, something Phillips didn’t even consider.
“I didn’t really think about that, but I’m hoping it doesn’t matter,” Phillips said. “Last year’s goal was to get to nationals and this year’s goal is to do well at nationals. They showed today that they mean it.”
The Noles women are riding high after recording five of the top 15 times in the history of the program on a course they’ve competed on since 2000. Jodie Judd (22nd, 16:48.77), Elizabeth Funderburk (23rd, 16:49.47), Addi Coggins (33rd, 16:56.03) and Lauren Ryan (34th, 16:56.61) streamed across the finish line in a meet-best 14.4-second split between the first and fifth finishers.
FSU’s first five runners recorded personal-bests for the 5,000-meter cross country distance, as did Ellie Wallace (89th, 17:27.97) and Kate Bernicke (163rd, 17:54.30).
“It was a lot of fun,” said Coggins, a redshirt sophomore. “We haven’t raced in over a month. We knew we had really good potential and kind of wanted to see where we stacked up with all the other teams. I think we did really well.
“We have really big goals, so to have that confidence and have our top five go under 17 [minutes] shows that we can do what we think we can and kind of gives us a nice little confidence boost moving forward.”
Knevelbaard, who was sixth at the meet in 2017 (23:58.5) while running for Southern Utah, was encouraged by the effort put forth by the Noles men.
“For a lot of us it’s just the biggest competition of the season so far,” he said. “Every races gets a little more important, so if we can just stick our feet in the water and see how it feels, we’ve got a lot of time and a lot of finish to go.
“For me personally, I’ve got a lot of fitness to make up and the fact that I’m 15 seconds faster than I have been in the past…I’m feeling a little bit behind and I know I’ve got a lot of room to grow. It gives me confidence, mixing it up with the top guys here. It’s definitely a good stepping stone for us.”
Sophomore Paul Stafford was FSU’s second finisher, placing 41st (24:10.41), just one spot but 40 seconds faster than his freshman season effort on Notre Dame’s Burke Golf Course.
“You can’t complain with a 40 second improvement,” Stafford said. “Today was definitely the first time that I 100-percent bought-in and just accepted the fact that it was going to hurt; just accepted the game plan Coach Braman gave us.
“I was definitely hurting between miles two and three, but when I got there I knew it was all downhill to the finish.”
Six of seven Noles recorded 5-mile cross country personal bests as the team’s 24:15 average was the program’s fourth-fastest at Notre Dame in their last eight appearances.
Senior Steven Cross (59th, 24:18.23), Caleb Pottorff (70th, 24:26.10) and Silas Griffth (74th, 24:30.29) joined the personal-best parade. Matthew Newland was the Noles’ No. 5 finisher (125th, 25:07.7), followed by Tyler Dau (135th, PB 25:21.45) and Jacob Holmes (145th, 25:28.57).
“I thought we ran pretty tough,” FSU men’s coach Bob Braman said. “We had some challenges and we responded to them. I thought we ran pretty well. We were probably the 14th or 15th team coming in and got 10th place. I like where we are now compared to last year.
“I don’t know if we got any at-large points, but we beat some good teams. Our fifth guy was 24:30 and it’s kind of hard to be upset about that. We’ve got to get better. We’re going to have to better than we were last year to make nationals.”
That was a common theme for both teams, despite the impressive performances, as big challenges loom on the horizon. Next up is the Under Armour NCAA Pre-National meet on Oct. 19 in Terre Haute, Ind.
“Anytime you beat a team like NC State or Washington, teams that are ranked really high, it’s exciting,” Phillips said. “Like many people say, ‘It doesn’t matter until it really matters.’ Yeah, we can walk away and be really excited, but we’ve got work to do.
“It’s going to matter that we do well at Terre Haute in two weeks, and ACCs, but they showed today that they want to be good. That’s the important part.”
In addition to those competing in the Blue Division (elite) races, a pair of FSU women also shined in the open division competition. Freshman Rebecca Clark placed fourth overall in a personal-best time of 17:22.42, while classmate Ava Peeples was eighth in 17:35.75.