Tampa Bay Sports Day

FSU Cross Country Women, Men No. 2 In Preseason South Rankings


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A pair of 2s  might be cause to fold in poker, but it’s a pretty good starting point for the Florida State men’s and women’s cross country teams in the US Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Preseason South Region rankings.

With a top-two finish in the Nov. 15 NCAA South Region Championships securing a trip to the NCAA Championships, the Noles are opening the season in a good spot. The FSU men and women travel to Boone, N.C. for Friday’s Covered Bridge Open; the first of six regular season meets.

The ACC Championships are set for Nov. 1 at Virginia Tech, while the Noles will host the South Region Championships two weeks later at Apalachee Regional Park. The NCAA Championships will be contested Nov. 23 at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, Ind.

A year ago the Florida State women won the South Region team title, securing their first trip to the NCAA Championships since 2014. There they were joined by the Seminole men, who locked up their first trip to the season-finale since 2015 with a runner-up finish on their home course.

With the core groups from both teams returning, complemented by some talented newcomers, both teams have designs on return trips for a second consecutive year, and jointly for the 11th time in program history.

Fifth-year women’s coach Kelly Phillips welcomes back five of her top seven from the 2018 regional championship roster, including four All-Region performers. And while the squad must replace individual region champ and All-American Militsa Mircheva, it may well be the deepest roster in program history.

Elizabeth Funderburk, Maudie Skyring, Megan Mooney and Jodie Judd all finished among the top 25 at the region meet, as the Noles mounted their title-winning charge over the final kilometer to claim their first region title since 2013. Jen Lima is also a returnee from the group, which placed 26th at the NCAA Championships in snowy Madison, Wisc.

“I like being ranked second,” Phillips said. “It keeps us hungry and the target off our back. We were never ranked first last year and it made our women want to win.”

That determined finish produced a four-point win over runner-up Florida (60-64), with Ole Miss (87) and Georgia Tech (144) rounding out the top four. The Rebels and Yellow Jackets earned at-large berths to the NCAA Championships.

The Noles start the year at No. 2 in the South Region behind Ole Miss, which returns its entire seven-member lineup from last year. Georgia Tech, Florida, Vanderbilt and Georgia round out the top six, setting the stage for what may well be one of the most competitive South Region meets in years.

The addition of Villanova transfer Lauren Ryan, 2018 medical redshirt Addi Coggins and heralded freshmen Ava Peeples and Rebecca Clark  – as well as a handful of runners who improved dramatically on the track last spring – will make for a highly competitive training environment.

“We are really excited for this season,” Phillips added. “We really feel like we can be a top-10 team nationally if everyone stays healthy, focused and hungry.”

Bob Braman begins his 20th season at the helm of the men’s team, welcoming back three All-Region performers and four of the Noles’ top seven from last year’s runner-up team.

Caleb Pottorff, Steven Cross and Paul Stafford placed ninth, 17th and 21st, respectively, as FSU distanced itself from contenders Tennessee and Belmont in the later stages of the race to secure the second NCAA Championship berth behind runaway champion Ole Miss. Matthew Newland, who finished 48th as FSU’s sixth man, also returns.

The Rebels are once again the favorites, with the Noles slotted just ahead of Alabama and Middle Tennessee; two programs who contended for the 2017 South Region title and retooled to make another run this year.

“We’re real excited to be ranked second in the South Region,” Braman said. “I think voters saw that we’ve built on last year’s success and that we’re a vastly improved team.”

Braman’s excitement centers, not only around the returnees, but the addition of talented transfers Kasey Knevelbaard, Silas Griffith and Harrison Martingayle. The healthy return of Jacob Holmes, who was an injury casualty last year, figures to bolster the Noles’ depth as well.

“We do have our work cut out for us as Alabama and Middle Tennessee are going to tough to beat,” Braman added. “Two years ago those two were national powers and they have similar rosters this year. Ole Miss is the prohibitive favorite as they return the bulk of last fall’s squad.”