By Ralph Epifanio
Jacksonville, Fla. - The 2010 Stetson cross country season opened with Jacksonville University's "Short Course Duals" on Friday night, September 3rd, and first year coaches Mallory Dunn (University of Florida graduate) and Joe Matuszak (Stetson) had their first taste of victory.
JU coach Ron Griggs' event features an unusual distance (3260 meters for women and 4836 for men, hence the term "short course"), and only five teams were invited. Each team competes against each other team. The Stetson men outran Bethune-Cookman (24-34) and host Jacksonville (22-35), but fell behind North Florida (50-15) and Savannah State (43-18). Our women edged Savannah State (27-28) and BCC (20-39), but lost to North Florida (47-15) and Jacksonville (43-16).* Thus, Stetson's teams hold first day records of 2-2.
The men were led by freshman music education major Andrew Epifanio, of Deland. Hot on the heels of the lead pack throughout the race, Epifanio finished the three-loop, approximately three mile course, in a very respectable 17:15, finishing in 11th place overall.
"The course was a little slow," he admitted afterwards, "but it was fun...scenic."
Andrew, who graduated from Deland High School last May, was encouraged by the results of his first college race.
"It was a lot more relaxed than high school. It was a little tough to maintain an even pace because the course was uneven and choppy,"-it had been all torn up because of sidewalk construction this week-"but once I settled in, it was okay. It was a nice start to the season."
Epifanio's female counterpart was junior Maria Harper. She entered the race with a 19:08 personal best for 5K (3.1 miles), over a mile longer than JU's approximately 3K course.
"I've run this JU meet twice before, but not this particular course. This race is always difficult; it's the first race of the season, it's in the afternoon so it's hot, it's soggy, there's wind off the (St. John's) river, and it's difficult. I just accept the fact that it's painful, however, and I just push through it."
Harper finished in the top ten, in a time of 13:46. Now that school record holder--Colleen Mulholland, with an 18:05 for 5K-has graduated, the Integrated Health Science major suddenly finds herself the women's team leader.
"I just try to be the best that I can, and when everyone does that, we do okay. I try to be their gauge."
Stetson's next race, The Mountain Dew Classic at the University of Florida, is arguably their toughest of the season. Adds Harper, "The level of competition there creates a much different atmosphere (than today's). The competition is gladly accepted, but it will be crowded."
There's little doubt, from what Harper and Epifanio showed in their first meet of 2010, that they will be in the thick of that crowd.
*Note: in cross country, the lowest score, based upon the order of finish, wins.