TALLAHASSEE, Fla.- The atmosphere was festive, the competition - solid - and when the final points were tallied from Friday's 40th anniversary of the first Florida State Cross Country Invitational, the Seminoles had swept the team titles.
By capturing both the men's and women's titles, the Seminoles scored their first sweep of the FSU Invitational crowns since 2006. Perhaps more impressively, they did it with only a handful of their top 10 runners in action, as Seminole coaches Bob Braman and Karen Harveyelected to train for next week's Pre-National meet in Louisville, Ky.
"I think what we had on both sides was a couple of ACC runners - two on each side - and I think that fulfilled its role," said Braman, the FSU men's coach. "I felt like that went well."
The Florida State men trailed midway through the race to neighboring Florida A&M, but reeled in the victory with a strong back end of the race on a muggy evening at Apalachee Regional Park. The Seminoles prevailed by a 64-80 margin over the runner-up Rattlers, who paved the way in the field of 16 scoring teams and 162 runners of 8 kilometers.
"Today was a controlled effort the first two or three miles to help get as many of our teammates under 26 minutes, which was hard to do because of the weather," said FSU redshirt freshman Will Bridges. "Then I wanted to see how far up I could get from there and catch as many people as possible.
"A lot of people were coming back because there are two hills out here. [Former Seminole] Mike Foutwas helping me move up."
Bridges, a redshirt freshman who was battling illness at last week's Notre Dame Invitational, finished fourth (25:18.2) to lead the Seminoles, with teammate Seth Proctor right behind in 25:26.8. It was the first meet of the season for Proctor, a graduate student, who was just cleared to compete.
Harvey's Florida State women had a more comfortable cushion, knocking off Division II national power Tampa by a 72-101 margin.
The most seasoned Seminoles, senior Jennifer Dunn and graduate student Jessica Butler, finished fourth and sixth, respectively, in 21:49.0 and 21:59.1 to lead the way. Katherine McMeekin followed close behind in 11th (22:28.5). Freshman Christine Griggs (26th, 23:19.8) and classmate Kaitlyn Kelly(34th, 23:30.1) rounded out the FSU scoring runners over the 6-kilometer course.
Southern Miss senior Stephanie Ledgerwood captured the women's individual title, winning in 21:01.3. She can stake a claim to the course record as this was the first year the women raced over 6 kilometers.
On the men's side, Embry-Riddle's Evans Kirwa claimed top honors over the 8-kilometer course, establishing a new course record along the way in 24:40.0. He was followed across the finish by the Florida A&M 1-2 punch of Elias Chesire (25:06.1) and Shuaib Winters (25:09.9).
"It was a pretty good win," Braman said. "It didn't come easy. We had to do some running down. Florida A&M had three really good guys.
Braman was especially pleased with the efforts of Cabrera, Wallace and Millay, who were racing for the first time since early in the season.
"Dom Cabrera did a good job. I like the way he ran today. He ran first or second for us for over half the race was trying to do something special. ...
"It was great to have Seth [Proctor] back out there. He and Will, led by Mike Fout, just went through the course, got their splits ... and really did a nice job. They executed well. For me, we achieved a lot of objectives."
Braman is confident the `Noles learned some lessons along the way by racing over the rolling course that he figures will lend itself to a tactical race when his team returns for the NCAA South Regional here on Nov. 9.
Count Bridges among those who figures to benefit from the experience and the confidence boost which came with his performance.
"It's good to show myself that I am capable of a lot more because I ran the same time today as I ran last week on a golf course in great weather [at Notre Dame]," Bridges said. "It lets me know I can run a lot faster."
As for the team win, Bridges said it demonstrates one of the obvious strengths that sets Braman's 2012 squad from other recent nationally-ranked teams.
"It shows our depth," Bridges added. "In the beginning of the season during our tempo runs there would be 20 guys all together."
For all of the racing, Braman was equally excited about the reviews the course received, not only from the college coaches, but those high school teams that ventured out and stuck around, and will return to compete Saturday morning.
"It was great excitement with the high school kids watching," Braman said. "A lot of veteran high school coaches who had been here before the course got in the shape it is now, or who had never been here before like Hall of Fame coach like Bobby Ennis, said, `That is the most unbelievable course I've ever seen.
"That was really exciting for people like me and Brian Corbin, who macheted the first trail."
The action resumes Saturday morning at 7:40 a.m. when the first of 10 races - the elite boys division - gets things going in what will serve as a preview for the Nov. 17 FHSAA State Championship meet back at Apalachee Regional Park.