Both the Men’s and Women’s Gators Cross Country teams were out on their home course Saturday morning as each played host to several area universities in the Mountain Dew Invitational.
Today’s competition was the first for both the men and women since each took home first place team finishes in the Western Carolina Invitational on Aug. 31.
Members of both squads were feeling a bit of the early-season rust coming into the early morning races, but the results where exactly what the Gators were looking for.
The Gators men won the team championship with an overall score of 28. In a competition where the lowest score wins, second-place North Florida came in at 108 points.
That sounds like domination, until the women’s scores are introduced. The Gators women, picked to finish third in the SEC in the conference’s preseason rankings, slotted one of their runners in each of the top five spots.
The women’s 1-2-3-4-5 finish earned them a perfect score of 15.
Overall program coach Paul Spangler could not have drawn it up any better, “I was very pleased with the men’s and women’s performances. I thought they did a good job of following the race plan. Fifteen points on the women’s side, a perfect score; on the men’s side we were just over 20 seconds faster than our top-five average from last year and I think we can get considerably better, so I’m very happy.”
Following the departure of Australian Olympian Genevieve LaCaze to graduation, the Gators women were looking for someone to step up to the forefront of each race and lead the team as the program gears up for the bigger meets yet to be run. The most obvious choice is Florence N’Getich, a senior leader who finished second overall on Saturday with a time of 17:29.80.
That said, not many people outside the cross country program were aware of the fact that the leader the team might be looking for would yet again come from outside of America. Agata Strasua, originally hailing from Germany, had run for two years at the collegiate level before making the transfer to the Gators. She took home first place at the Mountain Dew Invite, clocking in well ahead of N’Getich and the rest of the field at 17:13.32. She was not working to seek out individual attention, however, but rather simply stayed within coach Spangler’s game plan.
“We did pace at the beginning, then slowed down a little bit because we had a hard workout week and then we picked it up again. So, that was the race plan.”
Of course, playing it safe will only take this program to so many lengths, and Strasua understands that.
“We want to go to Nationals as a team. We want to place as high as possible [in the SEC]. We have high ambitions. We work really hard and we look really good in practice, so we just have to stay healthy, I think that’s the most important thing, because cross country’s a tough business.”
While Strasua did not go so far as to openly predict any championships, in terms of the team taking care of business through two competitions one thing is certain: business is good.