UF men's track shares NCAA title with Texas A&M

Florida's Hugh Graham Jr., left, hugs Antwan Wright as teammate Dedric Dukes looks on after winning the 4x400-meter race during the NCAA outdoor track and field championships in Eugene, Ore., Saturday, June 8, 2013. Florida tied with Texas A&M for the men's championship. (The Associated Press)

Published: Saturday, June 8, 2013 at 7:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, June 8, 2013 at 7:43 p.m.
The University of Florida men's track and field team are national champions again. The Gators used a dramatic finish to share the 2013 NCAA crown with Texas A&M (53 points) in front of a packed house at famed Hayward Field. This is the 31st national championship in University of Florida athletics history and the fifth team title for the UF men's track and field program since 2010 — three indoor titles (2010-12) and two outdoor (2012-13). This is the second NCAA title for the University of Florida this year, with women's gymnastics claiming its first NCAA Championship in April. The Gators are the first team since 1978 (UTEP, UCLA) to share an NCAA outdoor title and this is just the fourth time in NCAA history a tie has occurred. “I'm just so proud…proud of our guys, my coaching and support staff, and everyone associated with the program,” Florida head coach Mike Holloway said. “The big thing is that we recruit these guys and expect them to go out there and compete for national championships. I'm extremely proud of them. No one gave us a chance. I watched the replays of ESPN this weekend and they didn't even mention the Gators. I told the guys to just keep fighting, be who we are and do what we do.”

Trailing Texas A&M by nine points heading into the final event, the Gators, with a lineup of Najee Glass, Hugh Graham, Jr., Dedric Dukes and Arman Hall, claimed the 4x400-meter relay title (3:01.34) and the 10 points that came along with it. A&M — in the same race — dropped the baton but rebounded to finish eighth, giving them one point and putting them in a tie for the national title with the Gators. “It felt great to bring it home for the win,” Hall said. “I knew Najee, Hugh and Dedric were going to put me out there in front and all I would have to do is hold the lead and extend it, if I had to. I knew people would doubt (the 4x4) because we're so young and it's such a big stage, but our coaches had faith in us, our teammates had faith in us and we had faith in ourselves. That's all that matters. “I knew when I watched the guys when the title last year that I wanted to come to Florida and help the Gators win again. After winning the 4x4, placing in the 400 and winning the team title…I want more. This is an amazing feeling and I want to feel it again.” The 4x400-meter relay crown is just the second in program history with the first coming last year in another team title-clinching victory. The Gator men's 4x100-meter relay was first on the track Saturday and started things off right, capturing the fifth 4x1 NCAA outdoor crown in program history. The foursome of freshman Antwan Wright, Graham, Jr., senior Leonardo Seymore and Dukes got it done for the Gators, edging out runner-up Alabama by a hundredth of a second, 38.53 to 38.54. “It was amazing,” Graham, Jr. said. “I knew the title was on the line, so I just ran my hardest and we came out on top. All the handoffs were smooth and down the backstretch, I knew Dedric was one of the best guys out there and he would get it done for us. “Winning the team title is great,” Graham, Jr. continued.” When I came here to Florida, my goal was to win national championships. It's what everyone comes here for. This is my third team title and it's great to win again. The best decision I've made in my life was coming to Florida.” Heading into the NCAA Championships, Florida's men's 4x1 was seeded third and was using the lineup of Wright, Graham, Jr., Seymore and Dukes for just the second time in 2013. “I never doubted that group,” Holloway said. “We didn't have a lot of time with them but I believed in them and they believed in themselves. Our leadoff man (Antwan Wright) is phenomenal. The first time they ran together was prelims two weeks ago after injuries during the season to different athletes. Kudos to Eddie Lovett and Arman Hall for stepping in during the season while we got everyone healthy.” Defending his NCAA Championship was senior triple jumper Omar Craddock, who became the first Gator since Olympic gold medalist Christian Taylor to win back-to-back titles in the event (2010, 11). Florida has captured eight combined men's triple jump national crowns in the last five years. “Today was huge,” Craddock said. “My plan for today was to defend my title and get the A standard for Worlds this summer. I did one of those and there's time for the other. I wanted to get 10 points for my team and I did that. I wanted my first jump to motivate Eddie and the relays, and I think I helped.” Craddock led the competition from the get-go, leaping an all-conditions season's best of 16.80m/55-1.50 (+2.7) on his opening jump. Craddock kept the momentum going, hitting the mark again on his second jump of the finals. With the title already in his pocket, Craddock saved the best for last, leaping a new personal best of 16.92m/55-6.25 (+1.9) to improve his standing at third all-time in Florida program history and put the Gators within striking distance of the Aggies in the team race, down 52-43. “Being here at Florida has meant so much,” Craddock finished. “I'm so grateful, fortunate and glad to have been granted the opportunity to be at Florida and train with some of the best jumpers in NCAA history, like Christian, Will and now, Marquis. I'm so proud to have competed with the ‘Florida' name across my chest. I'll never forget the memories I've created, the teammates I've trained with and the chance to have been a part of history.” Junior Eddie Lovett turned in one of two runner-up finishes for the Gator contingent in Eugene, finishing in 13.32 (+3.8) behind Texas A&M's Wayne Davis II (13.14). “Going into the day, the goal was to try to put up another 30 or 35 points,” Holloway noted. “We won three events and we were second in another. We had a small blip with Marquis in the triple jump, which wasn't for a lack of trying, but we picked each other up. At the end of the day, we're a family.” Another runner-up finish was on the women's side, as junior Cory McGee turned in her best career finish in the Orange and Blue with a second-place performance in the women's 1,500 meters. McGee ran a strong race and led for the final lap before getting passed with 50 meters to go. This was McGee's third career final and she improved upon her previous finishes (2011 – 10th, 2012 – sixth). With her eight points in the women's 1,500 and the women's 4x400-meter relay scoring a point, the Florida women finished tied for 11th with 25 points.

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