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(L to R): Welch, DeVita, Hicks
by: Ralphoto
Stetson Cross Country Teams Mountain Dew It!
Courtesy: Ralph Epifanio  
Release:  09/15/2013
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In small increments, the Stetson Cross Country team has been achieving measured success against more powerful opponents all season long. In no meet, however, has their competition proven to be more challenging, or the Hatters’ success more dramatic, than at the 25th Annual Mountain Dew Invitational at the University of Florida.

On November 1st, the University of Florida will be hosting the 2013 Southeast Conference Cross Country Championships, so this year’s invitational drew a much larger, more competitive field than ever before. In other sports, Stetson might play an occasional game against a Division I powerhouse, but in this meet it faced, all at once, two dozen of them, including such well-known programs as Auburn, Florida, Florida A &M, Florida Gulf Coast, LSU, Miami, North Florida, South Carolina, South Florida, Tampa, Tennessee, UCF, and local rival Embry-Riddle, which is known as a top-tier NAIA school for its cross country and track programs. In all, 499 college men and women ran; the men in an 8K, the women in a 6K. Both were the longest races of the year for the Stetson teams.

Unfortunately, the Hatters men’s and women’s teams couldn’t make a dent in the armor of these much larger schools, but the runners came away from the meet with their pride firmly intact. Nineteen of the twenty-one Stetson athletes running—seven of the men and twelve of the women—ran lifetime bests at this meet. With its rolling hills and soft grass surface, the Mark Bostick Golf Course was not the best of locations for running fast times, but with their eyes locked straight ahead – on their competition—Stetson’s athletes ran their best.

Eclipsing all performances, both by time as well as effort, was the men’s team-leading tandem of Andrew Epifanio and Joe Beery. Epifanio has run a 27 minute 8K three times before, but each of them came at the end of the season during an A-Sun Championship meet (27:36, 27:33, and 27:45, in 2010, 2011, and 2012, respectively). His latest, a 27:12—a 21 second PR--came early in the season, and in the team’s first 8Kof the year, in spite of a 7:55 AM starting gun and the sultry weather.

“Before the race, I felt a little sore from this week’s workouts,” Epifanio said, “so I was concerned that I wouldn’t do nearly as well as I did. I started off slower than I usually do, which was probably a good thing.

“I was not only surprised by my final time, but I also ended up PR-ing for four miles along the way (sub-22 minutes). Overall, it was a great race, and I really enjoyed the newly designed course this year.”

Epifanio readily admits that his PR was not a one-man effort. In what has become an almost daily routine—seen in practice, as well as at meets – freshman Joe Beery was right there beside him, pushing him every step of the way. Beery’s only other time at the distance was a slightly longer five mile road race back home in Ohio this past August (28:10). This time, he ran 27:28, 42 seconds faster.

“Andrew and I both ran pretty decent season openers” – (for the 8K)—“yesterday,” said Beery, “and I think it’s definitely due in large part to our training together. We’ve been pushing each other hard in workouts, and that translates into pushing each other in meets. It’s a lot easier to lock onto a familiar, fixed point, than on a bunch of other, unfamiliar ones in a race.

“It was also really useful for me with the new distance,” he continued. “Locking onto Andrew helped me not run too fast in the first three miles, and also helped me push on the last two, and I think (that by) me being there next to him helped drive us both under his previous PR.”

After the 8K, Beery and Epifanio “cooled down” by repeating the course, bringing their mileage—with a warm-up—to over eleven. But they were not done for the day. That afternoon, Beery invited his teammate for yet another run of five miles, which they did from campus.

“As for the second run of the day,” Beery continued, “it was just for some added benefit. I’m a huge believer in continuing heavy mileage into the first half (or a little more) of the season, so that was the main goal. Andrew Townes has a very similar view because of his high school coach, so we’ve been training with added mileage a lot lately, and Andrew Epifanio was also down for some distance lately.”

Not coincidentally, Andrew Townes also set a PR, 29:28. Following him was Cody Malloy (29:45) and Kyle Meerdo (31:12 in his first 8K). The aforementioned top five totaled 318 points to finish 11th among the Division I schools.

Ryan Hodgins (32:07), Austyn Finnk (33:42), James Welch III (33:44), and Matthew Ady (36:21) also finished.

In addition to running with the team every morning, Welch has been making daily trips to the Hollis Center weight room in the afternoon, and the results showed up in the biggest PR of either team: one minute and 27 seconds.

“I think the weight training has been helping me,” he said. “During the cross country season, I go in three days a week. One day I do arms (biceps and triceps), the next day back and chest, and legs and abs the third day. The following week I repeat that pattern. And in the off-season, I go in every day except Saturday and Sunday.”

Welch says he noticed the difference in his first 8K of the season.

“On Saturday I felt like I had more energy. I also noticed a difference in my stamina, and it helped my endurance. I think my form was better, too.”

Welch, in turn, may have helped push teammate Austyn Finnk to his new PR, 33:42.

“Austyn was ahead of me towards the very beginning,” Welch continued. I finally caught up to him, passed him, and was ahead at 3 ½ miles. Then he caught me and we stayed together until the end. This was the first time this season that I’ve been able to run with him, so I think it helped both of us.”

The women’s team, too, had their share of success at the longest race they’ll run all season (although they will again run a 6K at UCF on October 19th).

In what has become almost a routine for her, freshman Amanda Spring pushed herself to the limit and ran a team-leading 23:22. Amanda, who three days before won the Atlantic Sun Conference Runner of the Week award--the first in Stetson’s history--ran as if to underscore her selection. Her time this week, in her first-ever 6K, is the new Stetson school record.

Behind Amanda, teammates Sami Hicks (23:53.90) and Adrienne DeVita (23:54.41) exchanged leads over each other many times before Hicks prevailed by half a second. In the process, they are establishing a healthy inter-squad competition that can only help the final score of the Stetson team.

“I didn't really know what to expect,” said DeVita afterwards, “because I have never raced a 6k. I did not have a solid plan; I just decided to run it by how I felt. Yes, Sami and I work very well together in races. We work off of each other; each having our own strengths: I have the endurance to keep her going, and she has the speed at the end to help bring me sprinting to the finish line. In the end, I did not feel a big difference from the 5k to the 6k...I did not mind the longer distance.”

The next two finishers, Daniella Godenzi (24:37) and Sabrina Guzsvany (24:57) rounded out the scoring.

If anyone could be seen as a key cog in the Stetson Women’s team, it has to be Godenzi. She is the mid-pack leader, whose role is to push the leaders, and as one of the five scorers, to pass as many opposing runners as she can. Before Mountain Dew, her first 6K, she toed the starting line with a few unanswered questions.

“I didn’t know how I was going to run the race,” she explained, “so I just told myself to run it like a 5K, and hold on. Coach Joe [Matuszczak] gave me a target to run—24:30. He wanted us—my group included Sabrina, Trixi, and Emily – to run at a 6:35 pace.

“The course was very hilly,” Godenzi continued, “but instead of letting it slow me down, I looked at it as a challenge. Every time I came to a hill, I pushed through it, and tried to pass girls as I went. On the downhill I opened up my stride and let it take me to the next hill.”

Godenzi ended up running almost dead-on with Coach Matuszczak’s target, missing by only seven seconds.

“I was very excited about my time,” she said. “But I felt I could have run a faster time, by pushing further. I just didn’t know how much further I had to run, and didn’t want to kill myself. But at the end I picked it up in the last straightaway, from where I could see the finish line.”

The next time Godenzi will see a 6K is the mid-October UCF Black and Gold Challenge.
“At UCF I’m going to try to start out at the same pace (6:35), and after that I’m going to try to do negative splits,” she said. “When I finish the third mile, I’m going through and not make the same mistake.

“I think running at night will help me. I’m from Peru, originally, then moved to Chicago, and to Kentucky for my senior year. So I’m not used to the hot weather. (On Saturday) I felt the heat a lot. I think running in cooler weather will help.”

With her fast-growing race experience, no doubt it will.

Also running 6000 meter PRs were Shelby Block (25:10), Clarissa Consul (26:21), Jessica Cosgrove (25:44), Nicole Garrabrant (27:19), Valerie Hiller (25:37), Trixie Menge (25:05), and Emily Nolen (25:08). Stetson finished 13th among the Division I schools with 312 points.

Stetson Cross Country