The University of Florida is known for its elite athletic program. With the football team undergoing major changes, and the volleyball team looking to continue its dominance over the Southeastern Conference, one of the university’s fall sports slips under the radar – cross country. Both the men’s and women’s teams are ranked in the top 30 of the preseason poll with the women’s team at No. 22 and the men at No. 26.
There are many new faces on the cross country team and Gators assistant track and field and cross country coach, Todd Morgan, is excited to see how the teams will perform this season.
“So far chemistry is going great, and I think the new people have been accepted by the returners,” Morgan said. “I think we’re going to see some new people being some factors in the Gators’ success this fall.”
Both cross country teams have high expectations for this season. Morgan said he is pleased with the dedication the runners have maintained over the summer.
“A lot of what they do over the summer is their responsibility,” he said. “I kind of get to see how good they want to be over the summer by how they report back at campus. I was really impressed with both sides, men and women. Everyone showed up here healthy and obviously worked really hard and excited. We set some high team goals for both teams and I feel like they’ve gotten off on the right foot in order to make those happen.”
The Gators women’s team has won the SEC title the past two years and look to make this year a three-peat. Former runner Charlotte Browning was a big factor in those SEC titles, but Morgan said two other women are determined to pick up the leadership roles in senior Genevieve LaCaze and sophomore Cory McGee.
“I think that what Gen and Cory did last year on the track have carried over… Both of those young women are more fit and sharp than they’ve been at this time of the year than ever. I think that was needed. Obviously it was great because they did great things for us on the track but on the side note I was very excited knowing that was going to carry over into the fall. We’ve established some new leadership and I think that Gen has always been a great stable person and leader for us but her performance has improved, and Cory is looking to have a much better fall than she did last year.”
Another key competitor on the women’s cross country team is senior Rebecca Lowe. Lowe suffered a hamstring injury in the early part of the 2010 season. Morgan said trainers are working with her to prepare her for the fall.
“This is her last year with us and we’re going to make sure we make the right decisions with her. Right now it’s to be determined what role she’s going to play this fall, but Rebecca can run for a couple weeks and she’s automatically a solid team contributor. So right now, it’s hard to say what she’s going to be doing for us in the fall.”
The Gators men’s cross country team placed third in the SEC last season, but Morgan said point total wise, they were really close competitors.
“These guys are focused on being a factor in the SEC meet. We’re running to win it. We know that’s going to take a lot to get there. There are some good teams in the conference… being in the NCAA meet in the fall is definitely what’s on those guys’ horizons for what they want to do.”
The men’s team is relatively young, with one senior, three juniors, five sophomores and seven freshmen. Morgan said senior Josh Izewski will provide leadership for the team.
In less than a month the Gators will host their only home meet of the season. The Mountain Dew Invitational is set for September 24.
Morgan said there are great programs in Florida, and this meet will be an opportunity for those schools to get a great competition close to home.
The Florida cross country teams will kick off the season on Friday in North Carolina for the Western Carolina Invitational.