TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Cross country runners competing in the 41st FSU Invitational Friday and Saturday will be the first to test out the changes at the Apalachee Regional Park course.
In terms of routing, the course remains very much the same, but the layout now meets NCAA Championship standards in terms of course width. The subtle changes include a straightening of the once-winding crushed shell trail through the woods, a new finish chute area, an expanded parking area that will provide direct access to the course, as well as cosmetic upgrades.
Those changes came about as part of a $250,000 investment by Leon County to bring the course up to NCAA Championship standards. Florida State has submitted a bid to host the 2016 NCAA Championship at the course.
“The course has got to run a lot faster,” Florida State men’s coach Bob Braman said. “We’ve taken all of the bends out of it. You’re rolling it. … It should be pretty good and it’s only going to get faster from year to year.”
More than 3,000 runners will compete in the FSU Invitational over the next two days, including 19 college teams in Friday’s two races. A total of 212 high school teams – 108 boys and 104 girls – including all of Florida’s top programs, will compete during Saturday’s 10-race schedule which begins at 7:40 a.m. In addition to the in-state programs which will get a preview of next month’s Florida State Championship meet course, teams from Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina are also entered.
Braman expects course records to be seriously challenged when the racing begins for college teams on Friday, with the women racing 5,000 meters at 6:20 p.m., followed by the men tackling the 8,000-meter course at 6:45. Embry-Riddle’s Evans Kirwa set the men’s record last year in 24:40.0, while former Seminole Jackie Drouin set the women’s mark in 2011 (17:30.23), running unattached.
Florida State’s men and women should be well-positioned to defend their 2012 team titles, against a field which includes five other NCAA Division I programs – Florida A&M, Florida Gulf Coast, Jacksonville, USF and Louisiana-Lafayette – as well as 13 other programs competing at the NCAA Division II or NAIA levels. The top five men’s and women’s teams in the Division II South Region will lead the way, led by Alabama-Huntsville, and including West Florida, Tampa and Florida Southern.
The Seminole men will send a host of quality youngsters into the competitive fray, including true freshmen Grant Nykaza and Avery Lopez, who will be joined by redshirt freshmen Chris Godwin and Max del Monte. Eligible graduate students Sean Quinn and Kemper Morton will round out the FSU varsity squad.
“This is a good meet for these guys, not just to run in front of their family and friends, but do it in a varsity way; not in a tempo time-trial an actual race,” Braman said. “That’s a little departure from the [past]. … We’ve progressed where are depth is solid; where they’re pretty good and they’re chasing a top-10 conference meet spot and we’ve got to pick our seven for Pre-Nationals.
“It gives us a little bit of purpose. We can come out here and defend the title with some decent guys who are going to go all-out and set some new PR’s. I’m excited that we’ve got a bunch of guys who are going to be racing for spots. It makes it a lot more fun than, `Hey guys, win the meet but just hold it together and save it for next week at Pre-Nats.'”
The Seminole women’s varsity will send Jess Butler, Chelsi Woodruff and Teresa Ristow into action with a blend of B-team standouts led by Kaitlyn Kelly, Christine Griggs and Shelby Salimone. Coach Karen Harvey will also have the balance of her varsity squad in uniform as they tackle a brisk workout that could yield some impressive results as well.