JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A beautiful new course at UNF’s Jacksonville campus certainly lived up to its billing; it was truly 110% cross country. Starting and finishing at the UNF golf center, three quarters of the 3.1 mile course wound its way along shaded, tree-lined trails that gave no hint of proximity to the campus just beyond the tree line. As if the Stetson harriers weren’t already excited enough about their first official meet of the season, the pre-race warm up in this wooded wonderland motivated them still further. But starting line smiles soon turned to serious looks of determination and Stetson’s 10 men and 14 women got down to business.
Freshman Amanda Spring, as she did in the previous week’s time trial—and every practice in between—took command as team leader right from the start. Despite the many twists and turns of the terrain, she ran a blistering pace and emerged from the woods as the first Stetson runner; she finished a fantastic fifth overall. Although less focused on time than place, she barely missed breaking 19 minutes (19:07).
“I didn’t really have a time goal, because it was my first collegiate race,” Spring said. “I only wanted to beat my former competition from Osceola High School, Alexis Irwin, who is competing for UNF.
“At first I didn’t see her,” Spring continued. “We went into the woods, and it was very crowded, and while focusing on the uneven terrain, I had two things in mind: (1) I didn’t want to fall behind her; and (2) I didn’t want to fall off my pace.”
Spring managed to meet her goal, finishing well ahead of Irwin (seventh in 19:28), despite it being the latter’s home course.
“It’s the first time I’ve run on a golf course, and the trail through the woods wasn’t wood chips, Spring continued. “I loved it.”
Also running for Stetson were Valerie Hiller (20:52), Jessica Cosgrove (20:54.3, a PR), Shelby Block (20:54.9, also a PR), Emily Nolen (21:07), Nicole Garrabrant (22:07), Clarissa Consol (22:17), Emmie Wenzell (22:35), Christine Iseley (23:11), and Susan Scaggs (25:21). Eleven of the fourteen ran faster times than their pre-season time trial the week before.
The Stetson Men were led by senior captain Andrew Epifanio (16:29, a PR), freshman Joe Beery (16:44, a PR), Andrew Townes (17:51), Cody Malloy (18:22), and Jeremy Butler (18:36). Top five score in cross country, with the lowest score (based upon finish places) winning. Thus, Stetson fell to the powerful host Ospreys 15-54, but outran A-Sun team Kennesaw State (89) and Edward Waters College (incomplete team).
“I felt like I had a good race,” Epifanio said afterwards, “running under control the whole time. It was probably my best first race of the season.”
Joe Beery, too, was encouraged. “It was a good race,” he said. “There were lots of roots in the woods”—and, he added, laughing—“I tripped over a few of them. But it was shaded and a really pretty course.”
Rounding out the Stetson men’s team was Kyle Meerdo (18:50), Ryan Hodgins (18:54), Austyn Finnk (19:56), James Welch III (20:10), and Matthew Ady (20:45, his Stetson XC PR). All 10 of the men finished with better times than the week before.
“We saw a lot of improvement from last week,” Epifanio said. “We saw a few PRs, which is a good sign for the beginning of the season. Joe Beery did very well, especially for this time of year. He ran a substantial PR. Austyn also did very well, and Matthew Ady also had a great start to the season, with another PR. We’re hoping to continue to improve.”
Next Friday evening, August 6th (5:00 p.m.), the Stetson cross country team dives into the deep end of the pool at the University of South Florida’s course, “The Claw.” Sounds dangerous, but it’s just a golf course. However, it will be the men’s first 8K (about five miles) of the season, and for most of the freshman, their first 8K in competition. Women run a 5K (at 5:45 p.m.).