The weekend of September 18th saw the Stetson Hatter Cross Country team visit "Gatorville," and seven freshmen-1/3 of the team-not only experienced their "first taste" of Mt. Dew, but, for the men, also their first 8K (approximately 5 miles). Since high schools compete at the 5K distance (3.1 miles), this was truly a first-time experience for almost all of the freshman men.
A brief explanation; The Mt. Dew Invitational is an annual event held at University of Florida's Bostick Golf Course. This year it attracted 19 Men's and 22 Women's College teams, plus dozens of high schools in separate races. With it, the 2010 cross country team came into full swing. It also showcased some of Stetson's toughest competition of the year. From across the state, and including Division I powerhouse UF, came most of the best teams and runners in Florida. Included in the field was nationally ranked NAIA power, Embry Riddle, which is currently rated fourth in the U.S.
Pacing the team for the second time this season, freshman Andrew Epifanio and junior Maria Harper led all Hatters across the finish line. Epifanio, who came in with a 5 mile personal best of 29:19 (which he ran last summer in Concord, New Hampshire), shaved 32 seconds off that time on a much more difficult course. His official finish time was 28:48.83. Harper, who finished well within the top 100, ran a 20:07.7.
"I wasn't really sure how to run it (the 8K), because I've never run one in cross country before," commented Epifanio. "I learned quickly that you can't run it like a 5K, because it's a lot longer, and you have to pace it differently."
Andrew was hoping to run it in the low- to mid-28s, but he wasn't too far off expectations.
"I guess it's a decent time for my first one."
He added, "I think Coach Mallory did a fantastic job preparing us for the distance, and she's very enthusiastic. She keeps our workouts interesting without making them too time consuming for students who have heavy academic requirements."
Another runner who set a PR was freshman Shannon Harrell. The women's course was five kilometers, the same as she ran in high school.
"I ran cross country in high school, but not super competitively," she explained. "I had more of a sprinter's mentality (which she was), and ran for a hard core team. They (The Classic Academy, in Colorado Springs, Colorado) were something like ninth in the nation.
"This-she ran 21:33-was a PR for me. It was much harder than my last 5K, especially due to the difference in the heat and humidity of Florida, and being from Colorado. Running on the grass of a golf course was more difficult, too."
She also explained that you have to be more disciplined to run distance races, and show endurance.
"We have an amazing coach, and a great team, so it's been both rewarding and fun (this season). I'm hoping to get (her time) into the 20s; at least sub 21 minutes. Eventually, during my college career, I'd like to go sub twenty minutes."Next on the schedule is the Embry Riddle Classic, held in and around their campus, on Saturday, September 25th.