On Saturday, November 2nd, the Atlantic Sun Conference cross country season reaches its conclusion with the 2013 championship race(s) in Nashville, Tennessee. Hosted by Lipscomb University, the meet will be held at the Vaughn’s Gap course, in Percy Warner Park. The men’s 8K starts at 9:00 AM, and the women’s 5K begins at 10:00 AM.
Unlike other A-Sun sports, this championship is not an elimination “tournament,” but rather a winner-take-all race, where the top seven men and top seven women from each member school run head to head against everyone else in their respective races. Other than an informal bi-weekly coaches’ poll, none of the season’s preceding races—six in Stetson’s case--have any bearing whatsoever on the standing of teams that come into this event. Thus, its outcome will determine the success or failure of the teams’ entire two-month season. Since SU has faced few of their far-flung opponents—the ten member schools are located in five different states--it is difficult to ascertain in advance just how the school will fare in this meet. However, some “clues” might give an indication.
Both teams look to be among the very strongest in Stetson history. The first two meets notwithstanding—UNF was plagued by a timing problem and USF was a “mixed race” on an inaccurate course—the 2013 Hatters have recorded some groundbreaking successes.
At Mt. Dew (September 14th), twelve women and seven men set personal bests. In addition, the women’s team rewrote the school’s 6K record book. Freshman Amanda Spring ran a new school record (23:22), and five other women broke into that distance’s top ten: Sami Hicks (third in 23:47), Adrienne DeVita (fourth in 23:54), Daniella Godenza-Moreno (sixth in 24:37), Sabrina Guzsvany (eighth in 24:57), Trixi Menge (ninth in 25:05), and Emily Nolen (tenth in 25:08). Four of those additions to the top ten list are freshmen. On the men’s side, Andrew Epifanio’s 8K 27:12 8K placed him fifth all-time. Not bad for a mid-season race.
“I definitely underestimated the 6K distance,” admitted new record holder Amanda Spring, “and how to pace it right. I had missed my target time--23:00—suggested by my coach, but it was a pleasant surprise to break the school record. I try not to let things go to my head, but focus on each meet individually. So, next on my mind was Embry-Riddle.”
The Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Invitational (September 21st) is where the women’s team beat the host school Eagles by one point, thanks to freshman Clarissa Consul’s inspiring all-out sprint to the finish.
“I was standing at the top of the hill, cheering the last few women on,” explained Asst. Coach Frankie Painter. “When I turned around, I saw Clarissa running past several women, including two from Stetson who normally finish ahead of her. I immediately realized that she was having an incredible run, and later found out that her finish”—an all-out sprint to beat Embry-Riddle’s sixth runner—“is what won us first place!”
The men, too, ran an inspired race at Embry-Riddle. The times of both Andrew Epifanio (27:28) and Joe Beery (28:12) belie the difficulty of this sandy, ultra-hilly course. Only the winner (2012 Olympian, and FHSAA mile record holder Sam Vazquez) and ERAU’s top two runners beat Andrew to the finish, as he ran the tenth fastest 8K in school history, and led his team to a second place finish.
“I think that I was riding off the great race I had at the Mountain Dew (UF) Invite, where I ran a 27:12,” Epifanio explained. “It made me realize what kind of shape I was in, and my potential for the season. The competition in the Embry-Riddle race also helped a great deal; I had Joe Beery alongside me for a good part of it, and he helped me keep that hard pace. I was chasing Jacob Dordick, from Embry Riddle, who helped to pull me forward in the end. Overall, the conditions that day, for an outstanding personal race, were optimal, and, despite the difficulty of the course, I was able to do something very surprising and exciting.”
The flrunners.com Invitational XIV (September 27th) was another breakout meet for both teams. Seven men and thirteen women set personal bests at the 5K distance. In fact, Andrew Epifanio reset his Men’s 5K school record (16:19) and Sami Hicks came within one second of tying the women’s record. (Although a freshman, she is now in second place, all time, with that 18:56.) The women finished second overall among the college teams—beating A-Sun rival Jacksonville in an all-college category--and the men were fourth.
“I felt really good going into this race,” Sami explained. “I had never run on such a flat course before, and I knew I could use it to my advantage. Having such a long stride helps. When courses are (alternately) flat and hilly, I have to constantly adjust my stride and that wasn't the case in this race; I could keep it consistent.
“I felt good, I felt fresh. Joe (Matuszczak, her coach) wanted me to run the first mile in 6:11, but I crossed it at six-flat. I just felt really good, so I kept it up.”
And keeping it up was what the men’s and women’s teams had hoped to do. Following FLR XIV was a three week interval between meets, during which the teams’ training intensified. The last regular season meet, the UCF Invitational on October 18th, should have been their season’s penultimate success (next to the A-Sun). Instead, injuries ran rampant, both leading up to, and (especially) during the 6K race. Hard times had come as a result of hard training. Running contrary to some otherwise disappointing personal times were those of the teams’ top performers: Adrienne DeVita’s 24:01 (fifth fastest, all-time on the SU 6K list), and Epifanio’s 27:53.
After two weeks of tapering, and for some complete rest, an optimistic squad now looks forward to their trip to Nashville, and again running as they are accustomed.
From Frankie Painter: “(This year) I feel the addition of the freshmen women has been beneficial, not just because of faster race times, but because their enthusiasm and commitment to training is obvious, and that rubs off on the others. It has inspired our veteran runners, both men and women, to push themselves more, and have even higher expectations.
“From my perspective as the Strength and Conditioning Coach, I have been pleased with the teams’ overall outlook on the workouts that I have designed for them. Many times, the workouts have not been easy, especially after hard running days. For the most part, however, they have literally jumped in and participated without complaint. I hope that they will, at the A-Sun, see the benefits of strengthening their whole body, and how that translates into more efficient running there.”
From women’s team captain, Sabrina Guzsvany: “Coming into the season, I wanted to give it my all. My goals included: consistency in races; finishing as a top five scorer in every race; and being mentally tough. The only one that I haven’t accomplished is setting a new PR, and getting over this pesky injury of mine.
“Conference will be my last chance to PR, and showcase all of my hard summer training. Even if I don't PR, I'd like to come close, and being a part of the top 5 is definitely one of my goals. I've been cross-training the past week, so hopefully there will be a little more spring in my step. The Stetson women’s team finishing in the top 5 would just be the icing on the cake. We're going to run so well. It'll be a huge upset.”
From the men’s team captain, Andrew Epifanio: “These last two weeks have been pretty rough, and I think a lot of people found their UCF performances disappointing (myself included), but it's a small stumble in what's been a great run, so to speak.
“(But) the team has done well up until now, and I hope to see some stellar performances--on both sides--at Conference. Though we've been battling injuries lately, my wish is that we'll get past them in this last week and push for great finishes on Saturday.
“It's been a good season, and I have no significant complaints in terms of my own performance. Personally, I have been fairly satisfied with my accomplishments. My final remaining goals for this season are two-fold: one, to break the school record for the 8k at Conference, and two, if I can, to attend Regionals and break the school’s 10K record as well.”
From freshman standout, Amanda Spring: “I am excited to go to Nashville. I have been through Tennessee, but never stayed there. Also, my grandma, who I haven't seen in a while, will be able to attend.
“Although one of my goals this year was to break the school record for the 5K, I have yet to do that. My main goal, however, was, and has been all along, to help my team move up in the conference.
“I just want to say to both of my teams that I believe we can accomplish great things at this meet. Yes, the last race may not have been what we wanted, but we have regrouped, put in the work, and prepared. So I think we are ready to show the Atlantic Sun Conference just how great we can be. Also, I owe Andrew Townes and Joe Beery for the several ‘shout-outs’ they have made on their radio show to support me. This one is for you guys!”
From her male counterpart, Joe Beery: "I'm really excited to run in a big conference meet. Obviously, this is the big race, so a lot of preparation has gone into it. I think Andrew and I are definitely going to run a similar race to the way we have all season. We train together, so racing together feels comfortable. I'm not sure how this last race will play out, but I know we'll both be running a strong race to finish out this season.
“My personal goal is to dip under the current school record. That's not to say Andrew won't beat me and set a new one; but personally, I just want to beat the old one.
“As a team, we're shooting to run better than ever before. Improvement over the past has been a big goal this year. The men's team is excited, and we can't wait to see how we are going to do.”
Adrienne DeVita: “I am definitely looking forward to traveling to Tennessee for conference! My only worry is that three of our top five are recovering from injuries...and I really hope everyone is healthy by the big race. My personal goal is to do my best and get as close to breaking 19 minutes as I can. I hope our women's team can make a strong come-back from previous years at the conference meet.”
Sami Hicks: “My goal for this year was to run in the 18:30's. I haven't done that yet, but I feel strongly that I can do it at conference. I have never been in such good shape before, and with all of our training, I think it is going to pay off.
“I would also like to see our team run well at conference. I've heard that Stetson has not done well at conference in the past years. But with the girls we have now, we feel that we can change all that. I want the other schools to see how well we are doing, and (with that) how much work Stetson cross country has put in this year. It would be awesome if we placed in the top six!”
Head Coach, Joe Matuszczak: “I’m really looking forward to the race. This is the one race we train all season for. We've had considerable success all year, and I think we are only going to do better at conference. I think both (male and female) Stetson school records are in jeopardy. At this point, the money is in the bank and it's time to sit back and watch the show.”
In other words, it’s show time!