TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The good vibrations continue to reverberate for the Florida State women’s cross country team, following their third-place finish at Friday’s Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational.
One day after making a two-spot jump in the South Region rankings, coach Kelly Phillips’ Seminoles make their return to the USTFCCCA National Rankings, checking in at No. 25 this week. It is the first regular season appearance in the national rankings for the Noles since 2014.
“It’s exciting,” Phillips said. “It’s a start, even though it doesn’t really matter until you get there and do something when you get there. We’re heading in the right direction.”
There has been a clear upward trajectory for Phillips’ fourth team, which features a deep blend of veterans, complemented by talented group of first- and second-year runners in the program.
“They’re all super invested, just because of their age, and they feel like they’ve put the time in,” Phillips said of her squad. “That part is fun, just watching the growth; watching them mature physically and mentally.”
After resounding wins at the Covered Bridge Open and at Boston University, the Noles turned a few heads when they knocked off a pair of nationally ranked teams on Friday, including No. 22 and host Notre Dame. In addition to the Irish, FSU also finished in front of ACC opponents Duke and Clemson in the field of 19 teams.
Senior Militsa Mircheva and freshman Elizabeth Funderburk have been FSU’s top two finishers in each of the first three meets, while sophomores Maudie Skying and Jodie Judd, along with junior Megan Mooney have regularly been among the top five. Perhaps more encouraging is the contributions Phillips is receiving from her deepest squad yet as Jen Lima, Althea Hewitt, Kayla Easterly, Ellie Wallace, Sarah Candiano, Fatema Jaffer and Erin Phelps have all pitched in at some point.
“This group has been really focused,” Phillips said. “Often times, like with any team, they come in super excited because they had a great summer. August is great. Most of September is great, then you start losing a little focus a bit. That’s going to be our biggest challenge now.”
“I think we’re pretty focused, but staying focused and making that next step in the next four weeks [is the goal].”
Cracking the national rankings is just the first step in returning the Noles to the heights they enjoyed not that long ago. From 2006-2014 Florida State was ranked in every poll released.
A number of factors have contributed to the Noles’ return, not the least of which has been team chemistry through improved communication.
“They all talk among each other,” Phillips said. “They make their own plans, which is good. They’re thinking through races, as opposed to just showing up and racing. That has been a big thing, because they all feel a little bit more a part of the process. They’ve done a great job of keeping each other accountable.”
Race day evidence has shown up in the teams’ ability to pack up and work together, which has been three years in the making.
Just 35 seconds separated FSU’s first five finishers at Notre Dame; a testament to that progress. Only one other team in the top 10 at Notre Dame had a tighter 1-5 spread.
“Finally they actually believe that it works, because they realize how much easier it is to run [together] but it has taken a while,” Phillips said. “You tell people that and so many of them are coming from being the best on their high school team, so pack running is not a natural thing. If you’re competitive you don’t want to be pack running…Getting used to that and knowing that you’re working toward a common goal, it took probably two years to get there.
“This is the first group that totally gets it, and they live for it. They try to find each other.”
The Noles return to action Oct. 13 when they travel to Madison, Wisconsin for the Wisconsin Pre-National meet; an opportunity to face off against elite competition on the course that will host the NCAA Championships in November.
Though subjective, the first national ranking in four years is further evidence that this squad could be the one that finishes its season there.