Men's cross country shooting for first SEC title in 25 years


Published: Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 9:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 9:15 p.m.

On Friday, junior Mark Parrish and his Florida teammates will try and do something that hasn't been done since 1987 — win the Southeastern Conference men's cross country title.

UF, which has won three SEC men's crowns, finished second last year, its best finish since 2007.

“It's been 25 years since Florida cross country has won an SEC Championship, and this is the first time since I've been here that we really can say 'We can win this' and actually mean it,” Parrish said. “We really do have the opportunity, and everyone is committed to that.”

Parrish, a former prep standout at Tampa Chamberlain, has really stepped it up this season. After placing third for UF at the season-opening Western Carolina Invitational, he has been the team's top finisher in his last two races.

Parrish placed third overall at the Mountain Dew Invitational in Gainesville last month and followed up with a stellar effort at Pre-Nationals in Louisville, Ky., Oct. 13, finishing 16th while setting a new personal-best 8K time of 23:43.2 that is the fourth-fastest mark in program history.

“Just going to Pre-Nats, the competition is so much better,” Parrish said. “You know there's a lot on the line, but you also know there's the possibility you could run really fast. To get that type of atmosphere and excitement going really helps you run a faster time.”

First-year cross country coach Paul Spangler is pleased with his rising star.

“Mark is one of those guys who is willing to do all of the little things to be the best,” Spangler said. “It's more than just going out and running every day. Whether it's nutrition, drills or the weight room, he's willing to do whatever is asked because he knows that all those little things add up to doing big things. That's a big part of why he has improved as much as he has.

“He's also a good leader and sets a good example for the guys, so it's really exciting to see how he's progressing through the remainder of the year and on into track season. He had some success last year in the steeplechase, and he's definitely got a future in that event after college.”

Parrish's immediate focus is on today's 8K race hosted by Vanderbilt at Nashville's Percy Warner Park.

“I'm really excited to get out there and get into the race and mix it up," he said. “Team-wise, we're looking stronger than we've ever looked. If everything clicks and goes well, it could be really good.”

The Arkansas men and women, ranked No. 9 and No. 12, respectively, are the highest-ranked SEC squads entering today's championships.

The 6K women's race starts things off at 11 a.m. where UF, which finished third last year after winning back-to-back SEC titles in 2009 and '10, is seeking its sixth crown.

The men's race follows at 12 noon.

“It's going to be an interesting meet,” Spangler said. “I think the guys and girls know they have a chance to have some success and do well, but we've just got to do what we do. We've just got to go out there and compete with the intensity and focus that we do in every practice, and if we do that, we'll be successful.”

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