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Samantha Hick (left) and Matthew Ady (right)
by: Ralphoto
Cross Country Battles the Weather at USF Invitational
Courtesy: Stetson University  
Release:  09/07/2013
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Until someone comes up with an indoor venue for the sport, the weather can be as formidable an obstacle as any other in cross country. Probably close to a thousand athletes, coaches, parents, and spectators found that out as they waited, waited, and waited some more for this meet to get off the ground, or should I say on it.

Though scheduled to begin at 5:00 p.m. for the women (5K) and 5:40 p.m. for the men (8K), everyone spent an extra two hours idled by a pesky lightning monitor that seemed to be generating almost continuous warnings. While members of the13 men’s and 12 women’s teams huddled in the clubhouse of “The Claw” (the name of the golf course where this meet was held) and stared at images of the current radar on iPhones, their coaches milled outside, nervously looking skyward. Caught between “shock and a dark place”—according to the almanac, the sun would set by 7:44 p.m.—some were even humorously plotting “alternative” ways to salvage an important date on their team’s schedule.

Finally, a break in the thunder-boomers provided the opportunity for a last-ditch attempt at 7:00 p.m. Gone was any hope of two races, so both were absorbed into a single, mixed race that had 288 tightly packed runners. It went off, no one went down, and the atmosphere of the race was as electric as the air above it. For one thing, the temperature had plummeted more than 20 degrees from the day’s high (in the mid-nineties), and the specter of dark, threatening clouds in the distance added urgency to the task at hand: finish fast, or else.

For Stetson, it was if the team’s runners were shot from a cannon. Intermingled in a crush of humanity, the men and women went all out, lost from each other in the usual sense of team place, and what resulted in its stead could best be described as the race of their lives.

“I loved it,” said senior Matthew Ady. “The mob scene helped me a lot. I came through the mile in 5:50, and I don’t think I’ve ever run a mile that fast. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh!’ Then, when I went through two, it was a pretty even split, so I knew I had it in me and that it would be a special race.”

Ady finished in 19:42, a minute under his previous best of 20:45, which he had run a week earlier at UNF.

“My thing about the 5K is that I never do well in the heat, so this race represented what might well be the last fast 5K that I ever run for the school. I took that [Steve] Prefontaine mentality and ran hard from the start to the finish; I left nothing on the course. I was able to pick out people (ahead of me) to get.”

Ady’s description of his own race pretty much reflected what was going on all around him, and that, unfortunately, led to a minor problem. Runners in general, and good runners in particular, tend to tightly follow tangents from point to point, much like those of satellite-guided GPS devices. When the leaders—Kevin Marindich and Elias Chesire of Florida A&M (both formerly of Eldoret, Kenya)—saw a tangent, they ran it. And not wanting to lose an advantage, so did everyone else. The wide open golf course offered lots of tangents. As a result, the runners lopped off huge chunks of course that affected the actual distance run. Afterwards, no one could be sure what they ran, but it definitely wasn’t 3.1 miles.

“It was kind of annoying that it might have been short,” added Ady, “but I extrapolated it in my mind and I think I still I had a 20 second PR. Now I know I can do it again.”

This being the first (and no doubt last) race at this particular “mystery distance,” in effect all 25 Stetson runners ran lifetime bests. (Humorous, but true.) For the men, the top five of Andrew Epifanio (15:52), Joe Beery (16:10), Andrew Townes (17:18), Cody Malloy (17:20), and Ryan Hodgins (17:39) together scored 112 points to finish fifth among the Division I teams.

Also finishing for Stetson were Kyle Meerdo (17:58), Austyn Finnk (19:19), Ady, and James Welch III (20:00).

The combined race helped the women, too. In what has become the norm, Amanda Spring set the pace for the Hatters and ran 18:29. But wedged into second, and closing fast, was fellow freshman Samantha Hicks. In the last 300 meters, Sami was reeling them in faster than we could count. Given more time—or the correct distance—there’s no telling how many more places she would have caught. Up in New England, this is what is known as “The Sami Show.”

“It’s something I do all the time,” Hicks explained. “I always try to finish as fast as I can. During my senior year in high school, my track coach and I worked a lot on speed. And it helps me at the end of the race when girls fall back.”

Hicks comes into the program amidst a lot of anticipation. In her sophomore year, she ran a 5K best of 18:17, which, if she can do it again, will put her in select company on the collegiate level. That has certainly been on her mind.

“I’ve never trained as hard as I am now,” she admitted. “So I’m hoping to start cutting seconds off my time. I’m hoping that I’ll keep getting better, and improving.”

In this race, she ran 18:49, and although no one can be certain of the actual distance, the fact that it is over a minute faster than her time trial—which she did after being on campus only a few days—it is definitely an indication that her times are on the way down.

“I’m pretty sure that this is as fast as I’ve run since my sophomore year in high school. That excites me because it’s my first race and I’ve only just begun to train.”

And where will she be at season’s end?

“I’d really like to get down to the low to mid 18:30s, maybe even the 18:20s by the end of the year. It would be great to beat my PR, but that will take a lot of work.”

And that is a job that Samantha Hicks is really, really good at.

Rounding out the scoring for Stetson were Adrienne DeVita (18:55), Daniella Godenzi (19:31) and Sabrina Guzsvany (19:39). The Stetson women’s team has its biggest squad in years, and this meet produced a total of 15 finishers for Hatters. That list also includes Emily Nolen (19:44), Shelby Block (20:00), Trixi Menge (20:06), Jessica Cosgrove (20:08), Clarissa Consol (20:24), Valerie Hiller (20:50), Nicole Garrabrant (21:12), Christine Iseley (21:18), Constance Compton (21:32), Emmie Wenzell (22:34), and Susan Scaggs (24:07).

Together the squad scored 95 points and finished fourth among the Division I schools.

Stetson’s next meet, taking place on Saturday, September 14th, will be the University of Florida/Mountain Dew Invitational in Gainesville.

Stetson Cross Country