BOSTON, Mass. – Out-performing outside projections, but not their own expectations, the Florida State cross country teams came away from Friday’s ACC Championships at Franklin Park with added confidence, and a little bit of hardware as well.
Senior Militsa Mircheva finished fourth and so did the 29th-ranked Seminole women, who received a 15th-place effort from freshman Elizabeth Funderburk and placed all five scorers within the top 44. It was the best finish for the Noles since their runner-up performance in 2014 and a significant improvement on back-to-back ninth-place finishes.
“I’m just proud that they came in with such good focus and were not afraid of it,” said FSU women’s coach Kelly Phillips, now in her fourth year. “That was super fun…It definitely makes it exciting to go into regionals on our home course. Hopefully it will move us up in the rankings. Maybe people will start thinking that Florida State is not so bad after all.”
Flotrack, the national running website, projected the Noles women to place eighth.
Redshirt freshman Caleb Pottorff validated his standout debut season with the Noles, racing with the front pack early and powering home to an 11th-place finish. Closing the 8,000-meter race in 23:58.5, Pottorff became the first FSU freshman to earn All-ACC honors since Jakub Zivec in 2010, which also came on the Franklin Park course in a Seminole victory.
The Seminole men placed seventh in the 15-team field; three spots ahead of their projected finish according to Flotrack, despite that fact that senior Istvan Szogi dropped out near the midway point.
“Caleb was fantastic,” FSU men’s coach Bob Braman said. “Toby [Hardwick] was very good, and Steven [Cross] was good…Overall it was a good race; our best race of the year. It’s got to be better than this if we’re going to make it out of regions to the national meet.”
Hardwick, racing for the first time since Aug. 31 due to injury, finished 28th (24:23.8), and Cross was 33rd (24:30.0) for the men. Tyson Murray’s personal-best 24:51.3 translated to 56th and freshman Paul Stafford (64th, 24:57.1) rounded out the scorers. Fellow freshman Matthew Newland (93rd, 25:24.8) was FSU’s sixth man.
Notre Dame snapped Syracuse’s five-year stranglehold on the ACC top spot, edging the Orange by four points for the team title, 57-61. NC State (85 points), Virginia (128), Wake Forest (154) and Virginia Tech (183) were in front of the Noles (186).
“We were three points behind Virginia Tech and maybe with a perfect race we would get Wake Forest in fifth,” Braman said. “Overall I’m pretty pleased and see the cup half-full, not half-empty.”
Pottorff showed no signs of being swallowed up by the moment in his ACC debut. He was elbow-to-elbow with the lead pack through the midway point, gaining confidence along the way.
“I knew what kind of training we had done and what kind of shape I was in,” Pottorff said. “I knew I had to put myself up there and no matter what happens, I believed I wasn’t going to fade back too far to be out of all-conference. That was a big goal going in and when I was up there, I knew I should be there.”
Though there were some challenging moments in the later stages of the race, once he crested the infamous Bear Cage Hill for the final time, he was determined to bring it home hard of the final 600 meters. And he didn’t disappoint.
The Seminole women arrived at the meet intent on showing they belong in the same breath as the league’s best, and so did their No. 1 runner, Mircheva. Following her tried-and-true plan of starting conservatively and methodically moving through the field, she improved two spots on her 2017 ACC Championship finish, closing the 6,000-meter race in 20:31.1.
“It went out the way I expected, a little bit faster,” Mircheva said. “My plan was actually pretty close to what happened….
“I’m actually much happier about our fourth place with the team than I am with my fourth place. It’s much more valuable that we did such a good job as a team and have really grown the last year. I’m really proud of our team.”
Funderburk, in her second 6,000-meter race of the season, ran 20:53.3 – a 25-second improvement over her Wisconsin debut at that distance – and was the third freshman in the field across the finish line.
“I’m a lot happier with this one than I was with my first one,” said Funderburk, after earning All-ACC honors. “I felt like I raced a lot more aggressively and went out a little a harder than Wisconsin. That gave me more confidence going into this one.”
The Noles finished behind No. 12 NC State, which won its third consecutive title by edging No. 18 Notre Dame 67-68. Syracuse, ranked 25th, was third (83 points), while Florida State (128) was well ahead of the rest of the field.
“I feel like all three of those teams can be top-10 or top-15 teams [at NCAAs],” Phillips said. “That bodes well for us. I’m super excited that they all ran as a collective group, really tough.”
Among the teams behind FSU was No. 22 Georgia Tech, which finished seventh (184 points).
“We should definitely celebrate how far we’ve come, but when we get back we should re-focus on regionals,” Funderburk said. “We’ve got two more weeks. We can still get so much better for regionals and nationals.”
Sophomores Jodie Judd (31st, 21:19.0) and Maudie Skyring (34th, 21:22.2), were joined by junior Megan Mooney (44th, 21:31.7) to round out the FSU scorers.
“It’s really exciting,” said Mooney, the only Nole with two previous ACC Championship starts. “Throughout the race we heard coach Kelly yelling out that we were around fourth place in the team standings.
“Hearing that motivated me and my teammates…It was really exciting when we saw that we were fourth and had reached our goal and exceeded what other people thought we would do. That’s really exciting going into regionals next week.”