TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida State men’s cross country team turned the Apalachee Regional Park course into their own personal playground Friday morning, romping to a successful NCAA South Region title defense in dominant fashion.
Junior Jakub Zivec and senior Breandan O Neill led the celebration, saluting the home crowd with tomhawk chops as they crested the final hill, on the way to a 1-2 finish.
“Running this race on a home course was such a big advantage,” said Zivec, who was awarded the win despite finishing the 10-kilometer course in 30:23.9, the identical time as O Neill. “We knew every turn, every part of the course. The spectators were awesome. They were cheering us on the whole way through. We had a tough race two weeks ago [at ACC] and today it was just really good for the whole team, especially before nationals.”
The Seminoles clinched their 10th consecutive NCAA Championship appearance by placing five runners in the top 11; more than enough to out-distance runner-up Georgia, 27-48. The fourth regional championship in program history was all but decided heading into the final 1,000 meters.
“It’s great to feel good in this meet and get our confidence heading into nationals and the real gig is next week,” O Neill said.
Florida State handled both the move to 10-kilometers and the competition with a determined confidence that came out after a disappointing third-place finish at the ACC Championship two weeks ago, thanks in no small part to its veteran squad.
Senior Wes Rickman finish fourth (30:37.2), graduate student Seth Proctor was ninth (30:44.3) and senior David Forrester was 11th (30:48.9), rounding out the Seminole scorers. As an added bonus, freshman Zak Seddon turned in his finest performance of the year, placing 17th (30:59.3), followed by grad student Paul Lagno (22nd, 31:16.5).
It marked the first time in school history that the men had all seven runners earn USTFCCCA All-Region honors as top 25 finishers.
“This is a tough course,” FSU coach Bob Braman said. “You don’t run fast on this course and we had six guys break 31 minutes, so real pleased with that and even Paul (Lagno), our seventh guy, was 31:16. All seven guys ran well.
“I felt like we would peak at the right time. I felt like we were getting ready for the right meets. I felt like we trained well for the 10K versus the 8K. So you feel those things, but until you see it, it doesn’t mean anything. They did a great job today.”
The Florida State women set the bar high on the earlier race, managing a scant 24 points that the Seminole men nearly matched.
“Yeah, we always want to do the same thing as the girls and it always doesn’t work out, but it did today,” Zivec said. “It’s a good team thing for them to get the ball rolling a little bit. We’re just trying to keep it going.”
Zivec and O Neill took charge midway through the second of four loops around the course, thanks to a little help from Proctor.
“When we ran we just knew all of the places where to speed up and when to slow down,” O Neill said. “We’ve been packing up the whole race and we agreed before the race where we were going to push on and make our move. It was really reassuring to see us all in the pack. We knew we would be alright on that last lap.”
It was Proctor who led the planned charge.
“Seth Proctor, a sixth-year senior, blows into the lead and stirs up the pack,” Braman said. “That really helped us because at that time, we were pretty much dead even with Georgia and yet we still had two and a half miles to go. So Seth made the move, Brendo (Breandan O Neill) and Kuba (Jakub Zivec ) just sat back and stayed together. Wes (Rickman ) kept his composure. Dave Forrester is as good as anybody that we got, he finished 11th today. … It was really a good team victory today. You could have taken anyone of the guys out there, scored the 6th or 7th guy, and we still would have made it.
“Check mark on the 10th straight year to nationals – one of the longest streaks in the country. Now we have a more important race in 8 days.”
The Seminole men will turn their attention to attaining a top-10 finish at the NCAA Championships next Saturday in Louisville, Ky., something they have managed just twice in the program’s history, most recently when they were runner-ups in 2010.
“That last lap was such a boost for our confidence heading into nationals,” Zivec said.
“I feel like we needed a good one because we have been good and ok and kind of mixed results throughout the year,” said Braman, whose squad has battled injuries to key runners since August. “What are we going to be at the end? … They are coachable. We needed that momentum, for sure, going to the next one.”
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