Holloway has job one with UF track


UF track coach Mike Holloway speaks with members from his new women's team on Friday during practice.

Gabriel Lopez/Special to The Sun
Published: Friday, January 25, 2008 at 11:36 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 25, 2008 at 11:36 p.m.

Florida's track and field program is discovering the number one is greater than two. As in, one program, one team, one coach.

For the first time in school history, the Gators men's and women's track and field teams have been combined into one program. The man who has been called on, not only to lead this historic change, but also bring Florida back to national prominence, is Mike Holloway.

Holloway, who has spent 13 years at UF, including the last five as the men's head coach, was appointed the head coach of the women last June. The move came three months after Florida women's coach Tom Jones died following a long bout with cancer.

"I prayed about it and believed it was in God's will to make this happen, and it was," Holloway said. "The first time it was mentioned to me, I was like, 'Wow. Am I ready for this? Is this something I can handle?' I had to make sure this was something, if placed upon me, I could handle. And it was."

Holloway and the Gators will get a chance to see where they stand today when they host the Tom Jones Memorial Classic beginning at 11 a.m. in the O'Connell Center.

Florida's athletes agree that combining the programs has given them strength and unity. In previous years, the men and women each had different coaches and practiced separately.

"It was segregated. It felt like two different teams," senior All-American Natalie Knight said. "It was like we didn't even know each other. It was like the 1940s. It was like the Jim Crow laws. It was like we weren't allowed to go cheer for the boys."

On Friday afternoon in the O'Connell Center, Florida's men and women practiced side by side, encouraging and interacting with each other.

"We get to bond as a team and we get to be around the boys' team," Knight said. "We do our chants together. We never had that before. We were segregated."

The Florida men feel the same way.

"This is my senior year and this has been the best team chemistry of any team I've been on," All-American Bernard Middleton said. "With good team chemistry, I believe we have a chance to get back where we're supposed to be."

Holloway is hoping to bring Florida back to competing for national championships, something that has been missing lately.

Last year, Florida's women finished tied for 21st at the NCAA Indoor Championships and 46th at the Outdoors. The men finished tied for 51st at last year's NCAA Indoor Championships and tied for 34th at the NCAA Outdoors.

"Obviously there's no one around here who is proud of what went on around here the past few years at nationals," Holloway said. "Our goal is to get back to being a top-10 program and we know we can do that right away on the men's and women's side."

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