Gators pick up wins at SEC Championships

Freshman high jumper Taylor Burke (Medina, Ohio) and senior distance runner Genevieve LaCaze (Queensland, Australia) picked up individual titles on the third day of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Bernie Moore Stadium on Saturday.

“I’m so pleased with Gen’s performance today,” Florida head coach Mike Holloway said. “She and Coach (Paul) Spangler had a nice race planned where they wanted her to hang back and conserve until the last few laps and then surge at the end. She executed the race very well. I couldn’t be more proud of Gen today.”

LaCaze, the Southeastern Conference’s first-ever three-time champion in the women’s 3000 meter steeplechase, ran a conservative race until the final laps, distancing herself enough to enjoy the final strides.

“Coming down the stretch, I saw I had space and knew it was smooth sailing and I couldn’t do anything but smile,” LaCaze said. “I’ve worked so hard for this and I couldn’t be more pleased to get the points for my team.”

No more than 10 minutes after LaCaze’s finish, it was Burke’s turn in the winner’s circle. The freshman jumper used a collegiate-best jump of 1.83m/6-0 to win her first SEC title and clear the six-foot barrier for her first time in the Orange and Blue, earning UF its first women’s high jump title since 1992 (Maria Galloni – 1.83m/6-0).

“I’m extremely proud of Taylor,” Holloway commented. “She’s been working incredibly hard with Coach (Mellanee) Welty and I couldn’t be more pleased.”

“It’s hard enough to be a collegiate athlete,” Holloway continued. “It’s even harder to be a two-sport athlete, let alone be successful at both. I think that not only says a lot about Taylor but also about Coach Welty and Coach (Becky) Burleigh, our women’s soccer coach, and the work they’ve put in to make sure Taylor stays healthy and happy. Our staffs work incredibly well together to make sure Taylor gets the best experience not only in competition, but in the classroom. Taylor has been doing only track for the last month and that focus certainly paid off today.”

Burke, who splits her time on the track with being the starting goalkeeper for the Florida women’s soccer team, cleared the bar on her first attempt at every height until the final round. That proved to be the winning formula, as the final five jumpers all cleared 1.83m/6-0, a mark that ranks her second all-time in Florida school history and the second-best mark for a freshman in the NCAA this season.

“I definitely loved being clean,” Burke said. “That was my goal coming in and I knew in order to place well that you have to have clean bars because of how great the competition is… I wanted to come out and get 10 points for my team. It’s the best I can do for my team and now it’s up to the rest of my teammates tomorrow.”

10 Gators qualified for Sunday’s finals, bringing the total Florida qualifiers competing Sunday to 17. Both the No. 1 Florida men and No. 4 Florida women are currently in fourth heading into the final day of competition at LSU. There are 17 scoring opportunities for the Gator men and 22 for the women, including an impressive five qualifiers in the women’s 1,500 meters.

Sophomore Agata Strausa (Riga, Latvia) led the way for the Gator women in the 1,500 meters on Saturday afternoon, winning the preliminary round with her time of 4:20.83 and automatically qualifying her for the finals of the event. LaCaze put herself in position to run four races total on the weekend as she qualified for the finals of the women’s 1,500 meters with a time of 4:21.10, finishing fourth overall. Teammates Cory McGee (Pass Christian, Miss.), Shelby Hayes (Winter Park, Fla.) and Mandy Perkins (Ormond Beach, Fla.) also qualified for Sunday’s finals, giving the Gators five potential scoring chances in the event.

In the sprints, sophomore Darshay Davis (Mirimar, Fla.) added yet another final to her weekend after advancing in the women’s 200 meters on Friday. Davis won her heat and finished third overall in the women’s 100 meters in 11.34, just .01 shy of her collegiate best. The Gator quartermilers also had a solid showing on Saturday, as Ebony Eutsey (Miami, Fla.) and Lanie Whittaker (Miami, Fla.) qualified for the finals of the women’s 400 meters on Sunday evening, finishing in 52.67 and 53.22, respectively. The duo ran a memorable race just a few weeks ago at the Pepsi Florida Relays, as Whittaker edged Eutsey 52.06-52.07, and tomorrow’s final is looking to be another photo finish.

Reigning USA Champion Tony McQuay (Riviera Beach, Fla.), who picked up his first NCAA title just a few short months ago in Idaho, easily qualified for the finals of the men’s 400 meters, winning his heat in 45.88 and setting up another tight competition with Georgia’s Torrin Lawrence, who edged McQuay for first overall in Saturday’s preliminary round with his time of 45.84.

Another rivalry will be renewed on Sunday as sophomore Eddie Lovett (West Palm Beach, Fla.) won his 110-meter hurdles heat in 13.74, finishing second overall behind LSU’s Barrett Nugent. Indoors, Lovett earned the SEC crown while Nugent took home the SEC and NCAA titles outdoors a year ago.

Junior Ugonna Ndu (Newark, N.J.) added another final to her Sunday schedule as she finished third in her heat and seventh overall in the women’s 100-meter hurdles with her time of 13.38, setting up yet another point-scoring opportunity for the Gators. Ndu will also compete in the women’s 400-meter hurdles along with fellow junior Amani Bryant (Tampa, Fla.)

Live coverage of the final day of the SEC Outdoor Championships will air on on Sunday. That coverage will air from 3-7 p.m. CT.

Courtesy UF Communications