Grace VanDeGrift is one of four true freshman runners on the Florida women’s cross country team.
She’s calm, content, and a performer.
In her first race at the University of Florida, she earned her first SEC Freshman of the Week honors.
“The SEC is such a tough conference and to be freshman of the week is very flattering and it’s quite an honor,” she said. “I really feel like it’s setting me up for success. I feel so grateful to be here at the University of Florida.”
VanDeGrift gives credit to her coach, Todd Morgan, for her fourth place finish at the Western Carolina Invitational.
“This is the beginning of the season so it’s going good,” she said. “Coach Morgan is really preparing us all well.”
Despite the early success, she’s just thankful to be running with UF.
“As a freshman coming in, it’s really exciting to be a Gator and to be on the team,” she said.
After two races, she wants to have a bigger role heading into the rest of the season.
“I really do want to be a big contributing factor to the team,” she said. “That’s always a big goal of mine. I’m just trying to see where the season goes.”
At the South Florida Invitational on Sept. 9th, she turned in an 11th place finish in the 5k with an official time of 18:21.29. The women’s cross country team finished fourth overall at the event.
The Gators next meet will be Saturday in Gainesville. The Mountain Dew Invitational will be a great opportunity for the team to run in its own backyard and VanDeGrift is anxious.
“This is the home meet so it’s always a big meet,” she said. “This will be my first time running on that course. I’m nervous but I’m ready for it. I feel prepared.”
The UF roster may be limited in numbers for the women’s cross country team, but VanDeGrift believes her teammates are a tight unit.
“We’re really close,” she said. “We’re not as big as some cross country teams, so we all push each other to do our best.”
Some Gator runners vary from different parts of the country and the world. The freshman believes it’s an interesting aspect to the team and they all have a special bond because of it.
“Gen (Genevieve LaCaze) is from Australia. We have Florence (Ngetich) from Kenya. It’s really cool to see all the different cultures. We’re all really close and get along really well.”
Adjusting to college can be difficult for an athlete traveling across the globe, but it’s also a tough transition for someone who is only hours away from home in Durant.
“It’s definitely quite an adjustment,” she said. “You really have to manage your time or else you’ll fall behind.”
The freshman standout said time management is critical for a student-athlete.
“It’s definitely an adjustment and you have to be smart how you use your time,” she said, “getting through practice, getting stuff done at home as simple as laundry, cleaning, and washing dishes, and then homework on top of all that stuff.”
VanDeGrift said the toughest transition for her coming to college has been living without her family and taking on responsibilities.
“I’ve always done things on my own, but like just having my mom there to be like ‘can you run to out to Target and get me something,’” she said. “But now I have that responsibility and I have to do that on my own.”
Before a race, VanDeGrift must eat a plain turkey sandwich, preferably from Subway. She also has to wear certain attire when she runs.
“I have lucky socks,” she said. “I have like three or four pairs that are my racing socks. They’re special.”
Whatever the freshman is doing seems to be working well for her and the University of Florida.