The Florida Gators Cross Country teams traveled to Maryville, Tenn. to compete in the SEC Championships on Monday, where the men finished second and the women placed third. This is the men’s highest finish since 2007 and the eighth straight year the women have placed in the top five. Florida assistant track and cross country coach Todd Morgan said both of his squads ran solid races.
“I thought the teams came out and competed really hard,” Morgan said. “We knew it was going to be a tight battle with the top three teams on both the men’s and women’s sides. We gave it as good a shot as we had today and I’m proud of the whole team. I’m happy with how they regrouped (after Wisconsin) and ran really hard today. Mark Parrish and Matt Mizereck really came through for us on the guys’ side and we knew Jimmy Clark was a big-time guy and he proved that today.”
Mark Parrish was the first runner for the Gators to finish the men’s 8K race. The sophomore finished third overall and with a career best-time of 24:23.69. He was followed by sophomore Matt Mizereck in fourth place, and freshman Jimmy Clark in seventh. Parrish said strategy was the key to the team’s top-three finish.
“We started the race decently slow, which is tactical in championship races like [the] SECs,” Parrish said. “The race started conservatively for about three miles and that’s when the attack started coming from (Eric) Fernandez from Arkansas. We covered it well and stayed on the attack until Fernandez pulled ahead a little bit about four miles into the race. The last mile was a pretty hard mile for me. I got into no-man’s land and had to keep pushing. At the end, I was out-sprinted (for second place), but I’m happy with my finish.”
Parrish was impressed with his teammates’ performance, and also was quick to praise the efforts of one of his freshman teammates.
“As a team, we did amazing,” Parrish said. “We had an off-week at Wisconsin a couple weeks ago. Everybody stayed focused; no one panicked. Everyone did really well in the race today. I have to give props to (freshman) Jimmy Clark. He did amazingly well for a freshman and I think everyone’s individual focus and contributions made it possible. We believed that we could do this at this (SEC) race. It’s a finish we deserve because we worked really hard, we’re really fit and we are looking forward to big things as the national series comes as we try to qualify for nationals.”
For the third consecutive meet, senior Genevieve LaCaze finished first for the Gators. She was third overall with a time of 20:32.98 in the 6K race. LaCaze was followed by sophomore Cory McGee in fifth place, and junior Florence N’Getich in tenth.
“On the women’s side, Genevieve LaCaze had an unbelievable SEC run,” Morgan said. “She hasn’t finished lower than eighth in her career and she has had phenomenal consistency at this meet. It was a big day for Cory (McGee) and Florence (N’Getich); Stephanie (Strasser) and Callie (Cooper) also had the best SEC meet of their careers. It was good all the way around. Congratulations to Arkansas and Vanderbilt; they came out, ran hard and won the meet. We just tried to put the pressure on and see if we could make something happen. We gave it our best shot today and I’m pleased with that.”
LaCaze and the women’s team were looking to win their third consecutive SEC title, but fell short. LaCaze said she felt her team could perform better than they did.
“Obviously we are a little disappointed with the team finish,” LaCaze said. “I know on another day, we are better that, but I also know every girl went out there and worked as hard as they could today. I’m so proud to be on this team and finish where I did my senior year.”
The Gators will continue training through this week and next week in preparation for the NCAA South Regional Championship on Nov. 12 in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Gator Country reporter Darby Underwood can be reached at email@example.com. You can also follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/darbyunderwood.