By: Ralph Epifanio
Trading off a shorter than usual trip (to Daytona) with a particularly early starting time (7:20 for men, and 8:00 for women), the Stetson Cross Country Team traveled to Embry Riddle Aeronautical University for what has become a regular sign of Autumn for them: The ASICS Classic.
In any given year the Embry Riddle course is arguably one of the, if not the, most difficult courses in the state. With constantly changing (and challenging!) footing, it is impossible to settle into anything that remotely resembles a running rhythm. This year, unfortunately due to construction, the course had to be modified into a three loop for men (8K, or 4.98 miles) / two loop for women (5K, or 3.1 miles) configuration that "ate up" well over a minute of the runners' hard-earned training progress.
Undeterred by the course's hills, sand, and sinuous course,Maria Harper was Stetson's top performer. Finishing ninth overall, and eighth in team scoring, her 20:39.15 was faster than that of 45 other college and post- college runners in the field.
"I ran it last year, and it was difficult. Basically, in the past, there was a very steep hill, and then the course went into the woods on a sandy, winding trail with some uneven terrain. That's what made it so difficult. (Before the race) I saw a map of the course and thought it would be flat, and a lot easier. But it didn't turn out that way."
With so much construction being done on their athletic fields, race organizers were forced to run more miles on asphalt surfaces than they might have liked. The question was: could this still be considered "cross country?"
"It definitely was cross country by definition," she concluded. "It covered every terrain possible. It went from hills and sand-which put a strain on your legs-to the down hills, where your legs went out from under you. Then you hit the flat, where you had to speed up. So it was difficult to switch gears.
"We only did two loops, so it wasn't too bad. Generally, I don't like loops, but because it was such a varied course it allowed me to run the second loop smarter."
Sprinter-turned-distance runner Shannon Harrell turned in another fine performance (22nd in 23:26.48). Newcomer Alyssa Thompson (two places back in 23:48), Stephanie Bird (26th in 23:51.45), and Kate Matthews (30th in 24:48.71) rounded out the top-five scoring for the women. Stetson finished fifth among the six teams.
For the men, the tandem team of Andrew Epifanio (24th in 29:47.96) and Kyle Burton (26th in 29:59.27) led the Hatters. Kyle, especially, ran an outstanding race, staying in almost constant contact with his daily training partner, and-being the more experienced runner-- helping Andrew maintain his focus on what is probably the latter's least favorite course. (Epifanio ran the 5K version of this race more than once while a member of his Deland High School cross country team.)
Kyle described the course from his perspective: "From the standpoint of changing the course, I didn't mind the loops, but didn't like the sand hill. I don't think I've ever been that close to walking in a race.
"There was also a different turn (than last year) coming out of the baseball field that was interesting, especially in the first loop. (At that time) you didn't know it was going to be a u-turn and it almost made you stop."
Kyle, busy as he was navigating the course, was still not too busy to notice, and later compliment the performances of two of his team mates.
"Both Peter Davis and Deryck Greene ran really well. Placement (in respect to other runners) was a major thing, and Peter moved up a place on the team. Both had a pretty good day."
In addition, Deryck-and also Alex Kempinski--actually ran faster at Embry Riddle than at the UF (Bostick Golf) course, a faster course by far.
Peter Davis (41st in 32:18.94; third team finisher) is steadily closing the gap between himself and the team leaders, a gap that may shrink further in the coming weeks, as two of the fastest courses on the schedule-FLIX and the Hatter Invitational-approach. Brian Dughi (44th in 33:08.83) and Ryan Becker (47th in 33:39.15) were the fourth and fifth Stetson finishers, so they placed for the team as scorers. Stetson was fifth of eight teams.
This will be a short training week for these runners. Next Friday, October 1st, is the flrunners.com invitational at Titusville, perhaps the fastest course on the schedule. Both men and women compete at the same 5K distance.
PL/MEN TIME PL/WOMEN TIME
24) Andrew Epifanio 29:47 9) Maria Harper 20:39
26) Kyle Burton 29:59 22) Shannon Harrell 23:26
41) Peter Davis 32:18 24) Alyssa Thompson 23:48
44) Brian Dughi 33:08 26) Stephanie Bird 23:51
47) Ryan Becker 33:39 30) Kate Matthews 24:48
54) Alexander Kempeski 34:51 34) Katrina McKay 25:33
57) Deryck Greene 35:06 40) Kelsey Munson 26:19
61) Josh Morton 36:18 44) Olena Vlasyuk 27:46
71) Kyle Bass 40:58 47) Gisela Fernandez 28:39