Florida cross country set to host SECs
Published: Friday, November 1, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 11:40 p.m.
As hosts of the SEC Cross Country Championships at the Mark Bostick Golf Course for the first time since 2002, both the Florida men and women would love to hoist the conference trophy.
SEC Cross Country Championships, 9 a.m., Mark Bostick Golf Course
For the UF women, who are the defending champions and have won three of the last four SEC titles, that would continue a remarkable run.
For the UF men, that would be, well, just remarkable.
No members of the current team were born the last time the Gators, who have recorded 16 consecutive top-five men's finishes, including 11 in the top three, won it all.
“We've all been working hard all season, and that's been our goal — to win an SEC championship,” junior Jimmy Clark said. “Everyone on our team we trust is going to go out and run a great race, and that's really all we can ask for.”
The fact that a few years after Florida won the last of three men's crowns (1955, 1986, 1987), a national powerhouse named Arkansas joined the league has a lot to do with the drought.
The Razorbacks, the defending champs and pre-meet favorites, have won 20 of the last 22 men's titles since joining the SEC, their only misses coming from 2008-09 when Alabama took the crown.
“Obviously Arkansas has a great team, and Georgia and Auburn are strong as well,” second-year UF coach Paul Spangler said. “But there are a handful of teams that have a shot to finish first or second, and certainly we're one of those teams.”
Senior Mark Parrish, a two-time, first-team All-SEC selection who set a school-record 8K time of 23:34 at UF's last race (Wisconsin Adidas Invitational) two weeks ago, is excited.
“Having SECs here my senior year is great,” Parrish said. “A lot of my family is going to come and watch, and that's a pretty big deal. Sometimes we go to these other schools, and you don't see anybody. It will be really nice to get some people out here who really care about the Gators. Being in that setting, I think we're going to run extremely well.”
Running on their home course, where they have already competed (Mountain Dew Invitational, Sept. 14), regularly train and will be cheered on by Gator fans, also should benefit the UF women, who are seeking their seventh overall SEC title (1984, 1996, 1997, 2009, 2010, 2012).
“Cross country is a pretty tough sport, and every little bit of encouragement makes a big difference,” said Cory McGee. “It's super-exciting to be at home. It's going to be great, and it definitely gives us an edge to be in front of all of our friends and family here supporting us.”
The Arkansas women also are the pre-meet favorite, but again Spangler, the 2012 SEC Women's Cross Country Coach of the Year, sees a wide-open race.
“With our women, we want to keep the trophy in Gainesville, but we know Arkansas is very, very good and we know Vanderbilt is good, and certainly there are a couple of other teams that are going to challenge for first and second,” he said. “We've got to be prepared for that, but our girls are very, very tough competitors.”
Senior Agata Strausa, a 2012 first-team All-SEC honoree who ran a personal-best 6K time of 20:18 at Wisconsin that was the sixth-fastest all-time UF mark, noted the Gators are confident.
“It's kind of like a positive pressure,” she said. “We know we can do it, and we also know we can do the unexpected. Last year, nobody expected us to win. We were big underdogs. This year, a lot of teams believe they can beat us, but it's not going to be that easy. We're all super-pumped to get this done.”
The men's 8K race will start at 9 a.m. (national anthem at 8:45), with the women's 6K race to follow at 10 a.m. The awards ceremony is set for 11:15.
Admission is free, and spectator parking will be available at the UF Law School.