Great things have been happening for Stetson Cross Country this year, and it seems that those successes are beginning to accumulate. Recently, it was announced that Amanda Spring was selected as the Atlantic Sun Conference Runner of the Week, the first-ever Hatter so chosen.
That same week, the Mt. Dew Invitational brought with it nearly teams-wide PRs. And this past weekend, the Stetson “A-Team”—Amanda and Andrew—scored their respective team’s highest female/male cross country finish of the year, perhaps even in Stetson history, with overall third (women) and fourth (men) place finishes, respectively, in the 11th Annual Embry-Riddle Invitational. But it gets even better.
For more years than anyone can remember, Embry Riddle has dominated Stetson in cross country, ERAU’s top five always managing to outscore the Hatters. Riddle has indoor and outdoor track, running three seasons—instead of one—thus creating a huge advantage in their distance runners’ training base. For once, however, the Stetson Women’s team outdid their cross-county rivals in head-to-head competition, and to make it even sweeter, it came at ERAU’s own meet, and thus snapped the host team’s six year winning streak.
Despite a heart-thumping uphill start, Amanda Spring took it out like there was no tomorrow, but so did fellow freshman Samantha Hicks, who was hot on her heels. At about the halfway point of the 5K, a surprising and confusing 180 degree turn almost wreaked havoc on their positions in the race.
“It came at the end of the first loop,” Spring explained, “where you had to make a U-turn and go back. I followed a male runner who”—because he was running a longer course—“was going straight ahead.”
Fortunately, a Stetson Mom was there to see the misdirection and yelled for the top two SU women to turn around. Getting back on track, Spring and Hicks ran neck and neck until the last 800 meters.
“I used the down hills to open some distance, and then kicked it in for the final straightaway,” said Spring.
Spring finished first for the team (20:03), Sami Hicks was second (20:08), and Adrienne DeVita third (20:31). While the times were slower than usual for the three--Embry Riddle’s Cross Country course is extremely hilly--they still managed to finish 3-4-5 behind Riddle’s Ellie Staker (19:20) and Lynn’s Gabriella Wuyke (19:43).
Next for Stetson were Daniella Godenzi (ninth overall in 20:58) and Sabrina Guzsvany (11th in 21:08). That made Stetson 3-4-5-9-11, for 32 points. Embry Riddle’s women, however, also had 32 points (1-6-7-8-10). Ties in cross country are broken by the sixth runner, who in this case turned out to be Clarissa Consol.
“Up ahead I saw Trixi (Menge) and an Embry Riddle girl,” Consol explained. “I thought, ‘I have to catch up to them…I have to pass them.’
“I worked all summer on my finishing kick, because I didn’t have one last year. Between that and the intense workouts we’ve had with [head coach] Joe [Matuszczak], I feel that I’m getting stronger. I saw the finish line from the top of the last hill, and gradually picked it up from there. I passed both of them.
“When I got to the gate”—opened to accommodate the finish in the soccer stadium—“I sprinted. I didn’t know how close the Embry Riddle girl was, but I had worked hard and didn’t want her to re-pass me.”
Consol’s kick made all the difference, not only in her race against Riddle’s Stephany Valesco—who was one second back and coming fast--but in the team race. Because Consol finished in twelfth place (21:23), and Valesco in 13th (21:24), Stetson won the meet. Compare it to a game-ending shoot-out in soccer, or a home run in extra innings; it doesn’t happen often, but when it does, that one-place win by a team’s sixth finisher is quite dramatic.
“This was a very exciting time, and I was glad to be a part of our success. I hope it continues, and I can also be part of our success at the Conference Championship.”
While Consol’s “home run” was being scored, the rest of the women’s team was still finishing, and they had no idea their team had won. But it would hardly have mattered. In their usual all-out effort, Stetson’s Trixi Menge (21:28) finished right behind her, Shelby Block (21:34) behind her, and a sprinting Jessica Cosgrove behind her (21:38). And so it went. There were no personal bests on this course, but a strong measure of personal pride.
The rest of the finishers on the women’s team were: Emily Nolen (21:46), Valerie Hiller (23:01), Nicole Garrabrant (23:07), Shannon Harrell (23:10), Emmie Wenzell (23:56), Christine Iseley (24:17), Connie Compton (24:20), and Susan Scaggs (25:48).
As previously stated, ERAU’s course is the toughest around, and finish times were certainly impacted, approximately 45 seconds slower than usual for the 5K, and a minute to a minute and a half for the 8K. That made the men’s times all the more impressive, as they had to battle 1.9 miles more of sand and hills than the women.
The fastest Andrew Epifanio has run this course was a 29-flat in 2011(he was fifth that year; ERAU’s Evans Kirwa won in 26:14.9). This year he took off at a much faster pace, moving up one notch in his finish place, but one minute and 32 seconds in time. The winner of this year’s race, in a course record 25:23, was 2012 Olympian Sammy Vazquez, who is an ERAU alumni.
“Embry Riddle is a historically difficult course,” Epifanio explained. “I probably started out faster than I should have—5:25 for the first mile—but it didn’t negatively affect my race.
“I knew the competition would come down to a race between Stetson and Embry Riddle, so I worked hard to chase their runners down. My finish time was faster than I expected, and one of the Embry Riddle runners, Jacob Dordick, helped me to get a 27:28, my fastest time ever on that course.
“Team-wise, the men did well. Beery”--second on the team in 28:12—“had another excellent race, and several others made good progress.”
Andrew Townes, in 18th place, was the last Hatter to go sub-30 (29:51, or exactly six minutes per mile). Cody Malloy (30:23) and Ryan Hodges (30:45) were Stetson’s last two scorers. As a team, the male Hatters finished second behind Embry Riddle, 19-46.
The next Hatter road trip brings them to the flrunners.com XIV Invitational in Titusville, where the Stetson men finished first in 2012. Both teams will compete at a 5K distance.