Terre Haute, IN - Winning consecutive Pre-National Cross Country titles in each of the last three seasons put a bulls-eye on the back of the Florida State women’s team as the NCAA Championship favorites. What it didn’t do was accurately reflect what would transpire a month later when the Seminoles returned to the same course with a national title on the line, only to finish second, fourth and fourth.
To that end, Saturday’s runner-up finish to fifth-ranked Georgetown at the Indiana State Pre-National Invitational, may be just what coach Karen Harvey’s team needs as the championship season is about to begin.
Despite strong performances by Colleen Quigley and Hannah Walker, who finished fifth and sixth, respectively, the second-ranked Seminoles came up 45 points short of the winning Hoyas (117-162). Georgetown’s pack tactics, placing five runners within a 22-second span between Walker and Pippa Woolven, proved too much to overcome.
“Georgetown ran unbelievable,” Harvey said. “They deserved to win. We didn’t bomb to get second. We probably got a solid B+ on the mid-term. … If we can respond, this could be really good for us.”
Florida State men’s coach Bob Braman came away from the meet realizing that his Seminoles still have much work to do in order to extend their streak of consecutive NCAA Championship appearances to 11 years. The unranked ‘Noles finished 18th in a field of 52 teams, led by senior Josh Gracia’s huge personal-best over the 8,000-meter LaVern Gibson Championship Course.
“Today did not move us forward,” Braman said. “It was good to go out there and get beat up a little bit under tough conditions. … It’s going to take time. It’s a new group and it’s a learning group. We’re not that there yet. Hopefully we can get a good one at conference and go ahead and continue that 10 year streak.”
Outcomes aside, Harvey and Braman came away with a much more clear understanding of where their respective teams need to go as they prepare for the Oct. 31 ACC Championships in Kernersville, N.C. Both hope to be back on the Indiana State course when the NCAA Championships are contested on Nov. 23.
Quigley and Walker were in the thick of the individual title hunt right down to the final 400 meters. On a cold and windswept afternoon, Walker actually made the turn onto the 400-meter homestretch leading the field of 340 runners. The junior-eligible transfer from Great Britain paid for her big move to the front and was nipped at the finish by Quigley, as they crossed the line in 20:13.7 and 20:14.3, respectively, over 6,000 meters.
Woolven, a sophomore, turned in her finest performance yet as a first-year Seminole, placing 33rd (20:51.4). Junior Linden Hall, who moved up 20 spots on the field over the final 2,000 meters, was 44th in 20:59.3. Sophomore Georgia Peel rounded out the scorers in 77th position (21:16.5), followed by freshman Anna Holdiman (94th, 21:24.1) and sophomore Carly Thomas (117th, 21:35.1). There were 340 finishers in the 51-team field.
“I’m glad this is just a mid-term,” said Harvey, who admitted her most recent teams may have arrived at Pre-Nationals in championship form, only to fade a bit over the final month of the season. “All of the girls gave great feedback. All of them had something to say about here’s what we need to do to be better. … They said, ‘Hey, when we come back here …’
“I reminded the girls immediately. ‘I know you don’t like losing,’ but I’ve trained this team differently than any team since 2007.”
For the women, the focus now turns to extending a pair of streaks. The Seminoles have won the last five ACC Championships and have not missed a trip to the NCAA Championship meet since 2005, which includes five consecutive top-four finishes in the season finale.
Braman hopes his FSU men can follow the lead set by Gracia Saturday, who notched a 34-second personal best (24:12.8) to place 51st. Transfer Bryant Blahnik (89th, 24:31.9) and Matt Mizereck (93rd, 24:32.5) came in together, as did Kevin Johnson (192nd, 25:08.9) and Will Bridges (193rd, 25:09.1), to round out the Seminole scorers.
Johnson got off to a fast start, but lost significant ground over the final 3,000 meters, while Bridges moved up 35 spots over that same span.
Zak Seddon (287th, 25:47.8), racing for the first time since suffering a minor injury nearly a month ago, made it through the race unscathed. Freshman Grant Nykaza (318th, 26:14.7) rounded out the Seminole finishers.
“Josh ran a huge PR and the course was not fast,” Braman said. “It was thick grass and soft from the rain all night. It was Josh’s best collegiate race ever. He believed in his fitness, believed in his ability and went out and put together a great race.
“Matt and Bryant need to be up there with Josh. They’re very gifted athletes. Will did a nice job. He just got out slow.”
The Seminole men were second among five ACC teams in the, finishing 32 points behind 15th-place Duke, but ahead of Virginia Tech (19th), Georgia Tech (32nd) and Wake Forest (42nd).