After a three-week break from meets, the Florida Gators men’s and women’s cross country teams will head to Wisconsin to compete on Friday. Both teams are going into the meet in the top 30 – the women ranked No. 22 and the men at No. 28. University of Florida assistant track and cross country coach Todd Morgan said the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational will be the closest regular season meet to an NCAA Championship competition that he’s seen as a coach.
“It’s going to be quite a meet this year, just the way the country and the different coaches and everything’s unfolded,” Morgan said. “We have a meet where 26 teams in the top 30 are going to be in the same spot, in the same competition, in the same race.”
This year’s meet in Wisconsin will feature 40 collegiate squads in the men’s race and 42 in the women’s. Coach Morgan said it will be a different experience because there are a lot more runners in this meet than they’ve seen in previous races.
“It’s a great opportunity for our men’s and women’s teams to run against some great head-to-head competition,” Morgan said. “Also, a good chance to emulate what running in that big of a field can do. It’s quite a bit different. The quality of teams is very high and there are a lot of bodies out there.”
“Running, obviously, it’s hard,” Morgan said. “It’s a little uncomfortable, you might be two, three, four miles into a race, depending on [the] man or woman, it’s difficult to keep pressing, and you might still see 50 or 60 bodies ahead of you. Staying positive, not getting rattled and flustered, it’s a lot easier said than done. So, it’s difficult as a coach to simulate those situations in practice.”
During the three-week training period, the Gators prepared for Friday’s meet and worked hard to establish roles for each runner.
“We have some basic team-line goals within each person that if they are running within themselves they should finish within a certain reasonable level,” Morgan said. “And we’ll make some groupings and some pairs. It’s a little easier to kind of hook up and run together for a while and kind of create some synergy off your teammate. Those are things we work in practice. But then there’s also a point in the end if they’re having a good day and they’re on, they can absolutely check off and go and the more people they get in front of, the better for us.”
Under Coach Mike Holloway, the men’s and women’s teams have a new focus during the regular season with their sights set on the bigger meets.
“It’s all been about using the regular season to be ready to go at the SEC and the National Championship meet,” Morgan said. “That’s just the attitude and the focus and pointing towards that has really been a push. It’s been great. Even though we’re running cross country now, these are all track athletes. And we’ve got a lot of support from the jumpers, and the throwers, and the sprinters and everyone is in it together. The bar here is set at championship meets. And that tone comes down from Coach Holloway on down and that’s what the focus is and we’re definitely heading in that direction this year.”
Coach Morgan pointed to two key runners that he expects will perform well at Friday’s meet.
“I think you’ll see our depth a lot better this weekend. [Sophomore] Tyler Davidson and [junior] Callie Cooper ran a gritty race here at home, but they’re last three weeks have been astronomically better and that’s going to help us out quite a bit.”
Because it’s been three weeks since the teams last raced, Coach Morgan said they’re excited to get back into competition. The Wisconsin Adidas Invitational will begin Friday at 1 p.m. with the women’s 6K race and the men’s 8K will start at 1:40 p.m.
“They’re chomping on the bit,” Morgan said. “They were joking this morning that it seems like forever since they raced. But we’ve really maximized these past few weeks and really been aggressive. We could afford to be, because we weren’t on a two-week meet cycle. So, we could afford to be pretty aggressive last week and got some things done that is going to help us, especially a month down the road.”
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.