Gators XC readies for nationals

Florida’s women’s cross country squad, along with two men’s individual runners in junior Mark Parrish (Tampa, Fla.) and sophomore Jimmy Clark (St. Johns, Fla.), will embark on the 2012 NCAA Cross Country Championships at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park in Louisville Saturday, with races slated for noon and 1:15 p.m. ET, respectively. A live webcast of nationals will be broadcast on Saturday.

Thirty-one teams were selected to participate in each championship – the top two, seven-person teams automatically qualified from each of the nine regions for a total of 18 teams, while an additional 13 teams were selected at-large. Thirty-eight individuals were selected to participate in each championship through an automatic qualifier and at-large selection process. All individual qualifiers finished in the top 25 in their region. Saturday’s races, hosted by the University of Louisville, mark the 33rd annual women’s championship and the 75th annual men’s race.

With individual NCAA bids for Clark and Parrish, the men’s program will have representation at nationals for the third straight season, last qualifying as a team in 2011 after sending an individual in 2010. Florida’s team bid on the women’s side has the Gators national-bound for the sixth time in the last seven seasons as a team – last in 2010. Florida’s women’s squad, the 2012 Southeastern Conference Champions, is one of six SEC teams competing at nationals, while Clark and Parrish are two of 10 SEC individuals competing Saturday.

For the first time since World War II, the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships will be held on a Saturday instead of a Monday – for the first time in the state of Kentucky and for just the second time in a BIG EAST Conference City. With the new date formula prescribing the national meet be held on Saturday before Thanksgiving, and by virtue of the calendar having the earliest possible Thanksgiving this year, the meet will be the earliest in Division I history.

Florida’s women placed the highest in history at NCAAs in 2009 (seventh) for the squad’s first-ever top-10 finish, while the men were sixth in 1990 for the men’s program’s best NCAA finish. Last time out at NCAAs, Parrish ran the sixth-fastest NCAA time for a Gator at the 2011 national meet, finishing 68th in the field, while Clark scored second for the Orange and Blue in 191st as UF ran to 30th place overall in the team standings last season. Of UF’s women’s squad, four Gators have nationals experience: junior Steph Strasser (Fernandina Beach, Fla.) and seniors Callie Cooper (St. Augustine, Fla.), Florence Ngetich (Eldama Ravine, Kenya) and Mandy Perkins (Ormond Beach, Fla.), with Ngetich competing as an individual in 2011 and crossing 117th in the field.

The school record for a men’s 10K is 29:19.2 (Keith Brantly, 1983) and the women’s 6K school record is 19:44.04 (Erin Merten, 2001). The highest finish for an individual UF men’s runner at the NCAA Championship is 13th, achieved by Tom Nohilly in 1988 and Dan Middleman in 1990, and UF’s last cross country All-American (top 40) in men’s action was Jeremy Criscione in 2008 (20th).

On the women’s side, the highest an individual Gator runner has ever placed at the NCAA Championships is second when former All-American Shelly Steely accomplished the feat in 1984, topping her ninth-place showing in 1981. UF last had an All-American performance in cross country in 2009 when former Gators Rebecca Lowe (15th) and Charlotte Browning (21st) secured top-40 finishes to lead UF to its school-best seventh-place finish.


Prior to picking up several NCAA at-large nationals bids, Florida’s cross country squads emerged out of the 2012 NCAA South Region Championship last Friday at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee with third and fourth-place finishes on the men’s and women’s sides, respectively, the men with 67 points and the women with 122. Seven Florida runners were tabbed USTFCCCA All-South Region performers for their race results Friday, while the Gators collaboratively eclipsed nine personal-best marks, five on the women’s side and four on the men’s at regionals.

For Florida’s men, the finish was the Gators’ third consecutive top-three regional finish, while the women were top-five at the South Regional for the eighth straight season.

Jumping from its season mainstay 8K to a 10K at the regional championship, the men’s team rallied to place all five scorers within the top 25 of the 177-athlete men’s South Region field, as Parrish led the way in fifth, followed by sophomores Clark, Eddie Garcia (Jacksonville, Fla.), JL Hines (Orlando, Fla.) and junior Matt Mizereck (Tallahassee, Fla.) in 13th, 14th, 16th and 19th, respectively, for Florida’s scoring corps.

In women’s action, Ngetich led the way on the women’s side with a fifth-place finish (20:16.8) to shatter her lifetime best and score first for the Gators, while fellow classmate Cooper checked in 22nd in the field for Florida with a personal-best of her own in 20:41.4 as UF’s second scorer. Ngetich and Cooper were two of five Gators with personal-best marks on the afternoon, as UF’s third and fourth scorers in juniors Shelby Hayes (Winter Park, Fla.) and Strasser each turned in career-bests one right after the other, placing 29th (20:50.6) and 31st (20:54.6) in the 205-runner women’s field.

Junior Agata Strausa (Riga, Latvia) scored fifth for the Gators in 35th (21:02.0) at South Regionals, while Perkins capped off regionals with a lifetime best 6K (21:14.3) in 47th and first-year Gator Shelby Davidson (Melbourne, Fla.) rounded out UF’s regionals competitors in 78th (21:46.8), just two seconds off her career-best.

Courtesy of UF Communications