By: Ralph Epifanio
Always a big date on our Stetson Harrier schedule, this year's Sodexo Invitational drew 243 runners and 28 teams (men's and women's combined) to Sperling Sports Complex in Deland, on the evening of October 15th. Some of the biggest names in Florida college cross country were on hand to run a challenging, and varied, course.
Not quite fully recovered after a spectacular second place finish to international powerhouse Windsor, Ontario, at the Disney Classic, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University gave a little, but took a title. Running the event as a fast-paced, but controlled workout, they relinquished individual success, while earning the overall college team trophy.
ERAU Eagles team leaders Sammy Vazquez and Evans Kirwa (who finished second and fourth, respectively, at Disney) backed off a bit from leading the race, while sustaining a key role in the team chase. Happy to take advantage of that situation was Florida A&M junior, Shauib Winter.
"I didn't 'know' who he was, but I knew who their second runner was (sophomore Evans Kirwa, fourth at Sodexo in 26:02). My plan was to run with them. I personally thought that I could run a 24 low."
That "unknown" runner to whom Winter alluded was Sammy Vazquez, whose recent 24:37.80 finish at Disney was a long way off from his 24:12 best, but everything is in the timing. And Winter quickly realized that it was his time to win.
"I knew he was coming in with a fast time. It was sitting in the back of my mind. My plan was to run with him, but he slowed down and I didn't want to lose my momentum.
"When I saw that I could win the race, I started surging. At the three mile mark he started to fall off. (At first) I thought he would come back, so I surged a lot. I think that's when the race was won, actually."
From the peanut gallery, it looked like both Vazquez (who finished second in 25:51)-and also Kirwa-might have been playing with their pace, but Shauib was dead serious, and when surge came to surge, he managed to extend what was at first a marginal lead, to one of nearly half a minute. He crossed in 25:23, the 2010 Sodexo Hatter champion, with all the rights and privileges that are associated with that title, including free food at the Stetson Commons for one full year....actually, that's not quite right. But he did earn a pretty good post-race meal (as did everyone else), courtesy of the well-known institutional food giant.
Leading the Hatter men, for his fifth straight time in his inaugural college season, was freshman Andrew Epifanio. A few seconds shy of his PR (set September 18th at the UF/Mt. Dew Invitational), he nonetheless ran a superb 29:04 on a challenging 8K course.
Testing team captain Kyle Burton (58th in 30:07) for the second team spot, was sophomore Brian Dughi, 63rd overall, in 30:25. Behind him was freshman Ryan Becker (79th), in a brand-spanking new PR: 31:52, nearly a minute faster than his previous best (32:59.57 at the UF/Mt. Dew Meet).
"I think it's that my training has started to pay off," he explained. "I'm starting to get into shape, and seeing results."
Being a freshman, this is his first year of college, and thus he has "traded up," from (HS) 5Ks, to college 8Ks.
"Definitely. When I first started running 8Ks, it was more tiring and I had to adjust my pace accordingly, so that I could run faster times.
"We had run the (Sperling) course the previous practice, so I knew it was pretty flat. Josh (Morton, who finished in 33:14) and I decided that we were going to start off slow and pick off people when we could. I ended up running the first mile faster than I expected; 5:58.
"I figure that if I had gone out at a faster pace, I would have died by the end. By running as I did, I was able to keep going and set a PR. It opened my eyes to the fact that I was able to start faster, run a faster pace, and get a faster time."
Ryan is enrolled in Stetson's renowned, but demanding, music program.
"It's certainly a lot of work. I have classes from very early in the morning, until late at night. And then I have to do homework, and practice my viola, so it's quite tiring.
"I get up at 6:20 AM-as late as possible-for cross country practice. During the week, when you have to stay up late, it's really hard to get enough sleep. By the end of the week, you're pretty tired, so to catch up, you sleep all weekend."
As his teammate, and also a music major, Andrew Epifanio is well aware of the "double duty" required to juggle the two. But he also has high praise for his teammate.
"He's actually a fantastic viola player as well. He was in a recital earlier this year, and he played phenomenally."
Four of the five team members who ran the Hatter Invitational in 2009 improved their time in 2010. That included Brian Dughi (-2:36), Peter Davis (-20 seconds), Alexander Kempinski (-1:54), and MJ Gort (-1:40).
As a group, the first five finished as the ninth team, vastly improved over their 15th place finish in 2009.
For 2009 Sodexo Women's Runner-Up (to MacKenzie Howe's 17:42), Friederike Feil (17:55 in '09), the only thing that seemed to stand behind her and victory was Palm Beach Atlantic University's standout, Meghan Gilmore.
"I knew the girl because we raced together in Disney. She was strong (finishing second of 221 runners, in 17:53.00)."
Feil won Disney's University Women's Division in 2010 (17:42.20), which had been her most recent personal best.
"(Today) we started out slow, and got faster. I knew I had a stronger finish, so I outkicked her. This was a PR for me (17:33), and a school record, too. She also PR'd (17:39), so I think she was happy too.
"I like this race. I brought three of my really good friends to watch. Three older ladies. I met them at a class at FAU, and they came here to support me," said the Exercise Science and Health Promotion major.
Junior Maria Harper continues to run fast firsts for her Hatter Harriers. Her time this year, 19:47, was a 42 second improvement over her time as a sophomore. She led her team to an11th place finish, two higher than last year.
In addition to Harper, junior Katrina McKay (23:42) eclipsed her 2009 time by 1:33.
Finishing in identical times (21:42), but getting there in different ways, were sophomores Alyssa Thompson and freshman Shannon Harrell (62nd and 63rd places, respectively).
"We actually didn't run together at all," clarified Thompson. "I passed her at two miles, and was ten or 20 seconds ahead of her, but she caught me right at the finish line. She was right behind me.
"I didn't run the past race (FLR XI)," continued Thompson, "because I was sick the week before with a chest cold. This race was a two minute best for the season; I'm finally back to where I'd like to be. I'd also like to be sub-21 by the next meet, where I should be.
"I'm very excited (about the Atlantic Sun Conference Championships). It will be a nice change of scenery," concluded Thompson.
Shannon, too, is looking forward to the trip to Spartanburg, South Carolina.
"I want to train really hard, and shoot for a 20:30 at the conference meet, so it should be really good. It will be a lot of fun bonding with the team."
Shannon, unlike the rest of her teammates, was a sprinter in high school. She is slowly, but steadily, making the transition.
"I think the hardest part was (building) the endurance. I run a moderately fast first mile, which is about 45 seconds faster than the second mile, and the third mile is another minute slower.
"This race, I was shooting for a minute faster than I ran, but I was hurting-my Achilles. The trainer doesn't think it will be too bad for the conference. Alyssa and I are shooting for a sub-21."
PL/NAME TIME PL/NAME TIME
47) Andrew Epifanio 29:04 21) Maria Harper 19:47
58) Kyle Burton 30:07 62) Alyssa Thompson 21:42
63) Brian Dughi 30:25 63) Shannon Harrell 21:42
79) Ryan Becker 31:52 78) Kate Matthews 22:26
83) Peter Davis 32:28 83) Stephanie Bird 22:56
91) Josh Morton 33:14 94) Katrina McKay 23:42
93) Alexander Kempinski 34:04 105) Olena Vlasyuk 25:33
94) MJ Gort 34:25
95) Deryk Greene 34:28
106) Matthew Ady 40:54