COLUMBIA, S.C. – It’s obvious to Florida cross country coach Todd Morgan that the Gators run harder when the titles are more meaningful.
On Oct. 16 in the Pre-NCAA Invitational at Terre Haute, Ind., the Florida women’s cross country team had a “rough meet,” finishing 19th in the women’s white race. The combined time of Florida’s top five runners was 109 minutes, 17.5 seconds.
Morgan knew his team needed to improve dramatically if it hoped to defend its championship at the Southeastern Conference Cross Country Championships Monday at the Hilton Field at Fort Jackson.
What Morgan got was a more than he could have imagined. Led by All-SEC first-team runners Charlotte Browning and Rebecca Lowe, who finished third and sixth in the 6K race, and Genevieve LaCaze, who finished eighth, the Gators’ five runners totaled 60 points, one less than runner-up Arkansas, to capture the program’s fifth all-time title. It’s the second time Florida has won back-to-back titles (the Gators did it in 1996 and ’97).
Florida’s combined time of its five runners was 107 minutes, 5.81 seconds, more than two minutes better than its effort in Terre Haute.
“I’m really proud of this group. The things that have gone on this fall have really tested them through the course of the season,” Morgan said. “We came back from a rough meet two weeks ago at the Pre-NCAAs and did great today. They really had to believe they were going to come out here, run hard and win. Today really showed their character.”
Browning, a senior, finished in 21:11.13 running behind Georgia junior Kristie Krueger (20:41.25) and Auburn senior Hollie Knight (20:49.39). Lowe, a junior, finished sixth with a time of 21:15.47 and LaCaze, a junior, was eighth in 21:16.10.
As much as the three upperclass runners led the way, it was the running efforts of freshmen Cory McGee and Stephanie Strasser that assured the victory. They finished 17th (21:33.17) and 26th (21:49.94), respectively, capturing SEC All-Freshmen team honors with the second and fourth fastest finish by freshmen in the race.
“Our front-five runners – Charlotte, Rebecca, Genevieve, Corey and Steph – knew that we had Arkansas at us with 800 meters to go,” Morgan said. “Each one of those five women passed people over the course of the last 600 meters and won it for us. At that point in the race, it was about them wanting it more than anyone else. All five of those women stepped up and got it done for us. It was really exciting and they did phenomenal over the last course of the race.”
Morgan saluted his two freshmen.
“Corey went out aggressive, fought hard and had a tremendous race,” the coach said. “Steph has worked really hard this fall and all of that showed today. Steph hasn’t run in our top five before, but in one of the biggest meets of the year, she did it, and her hard work paid off on a day that matters a lot.”
In the men’s 8K race, newcomer Dumisane Hlaselo finished fifth overall in 24:08.32, the sixth-fastest 8K at the SEC Championship meet in Florida history, and earned All-SEC first-team honors. His effort helped the Gators finish third with 69 points, trailing only Arkansas (34) and Alabama (62). The third-place finish by Florida was its best since 2007 and the school’s 14th consecutive year in the top five and the seventh time in nine seasons the Gators have finished in the top three.
“Dumi is new to cross country and he’s picking it up quickly,” Morgan said. “We’re really excited about him – he’s a great guy for us up front and we’re excited about the future with him. All of those guys really came out and showed that they’ve had the desire to improve since last year (Florida finished fourth in the 2009 SEC meet) and it showed today.”
Mississippi senior Barnabas Kirui won the race in 23:52.07, beating out Auburn junior Ben Cheruiyot (24:01.36). Doran Ulrey of Arkansas was third in 24:03.46 and the senior was one of five Razorbacks in the Top 10.
Florida sophomore Derek Wehunt earned All-SEC second-team honors with his 13th-place finish in 24:39.35. Matt Mizereck was 15th in 24:42.94 and was named to the SEC All-Freshmen team. Senior James Uthmeier was 16th and senior Anthony Morales finished 20th to give Florida its 69 points.
Florida is off until Saturday, Nov. 13 when it competes in the NCAA South Region Championships in Birmingham, Ala., at noon. The NCAA Championships will run Monday, Nov. 22 in Terre Haute, Ind., at noon.
SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS
Hilton Field at Fort Jackson / Columbia, S.C. / Monday, Nov. 1, 2010
Team scores: 1. Florida 60; 2. Arkansas 61; 3. Vanderbilt 76; 4. Georgia 130; 5. Mississippi State 156; 6. Alabama 177; 7. Auburn 190; 8. Kentucky 207; 9. Mississippi 209; 10. South Carolina 251; 11. Louisiana State 279; 12. Tennessee 326.
Top 10 individuals: 1. Kristie Krueger (Georgia, jr.) 20:41.25; 2. Hollie Knight (Auburn, sr.) 20:49.39; 3. Charlotte Browning (Florida, sr.) 21:11.13; 4. Miranda Walker (Arkansas, sr.) 21:12.25; 5. Stephanie Brown (Arkansas, fr.) 21:12.84; 6. Rebecca Lowe (Florida, jr.) 21:15.47; 7. Stephanie Barnes (Auburn, sr.) 21:15.86; 8. Genevieve LaCaze (Florida, jr.) 21:16.10; 9. Haley Greenwell (Mississippi State, so.) 21:16.71; 10. Jordan White (Vanderbilt, so.) 21:18.46.
Florida runners: 3. Charlotte Browning, senior, 21:11.13; 6. Rebecca Lowe, junior, 21:15.47; 8. Genevieve LaCaze, junior, 21:16.10; 17. Cory McGee, freshman, 21:33.17; 26. Stephanie Strasser, freshman, 21:49.94; 43. Callie Cooper, sophomore, 22:18.36; 46. Amanda Perkins, sophomore, 22:24.99; 54. Ali Crabb, senior, 22:38.75; 55. Sarah Davis, freshman, 22:38.85.
All-SEC first team: Charlotte Browning, Rebecca Lowe.
All-SEC second team: Genevieve LaCaze.
SEC All-Freshmen team: Cory McGee, Stephanie Strasser.
Team scores: 1. Arkansas 34; 2. Alabama 62; 3. Florida 69; 4. Tennessee 132; 5. Mississippi 154; 6. Georgia 155; 7. Mississippi State 211; 8. Kentucky 222; 9. Louisiana State 231; 10. Auburn 234; 11. Vanderbilt 278.
Top 10 individuals: 1. Barnabas Kirui (Mississippi, sr.) 23:52.07; 2. Ben Cheruiyot (Auburn, jr.) 24:01.36; 3. Dorian Ulrey (Arkansas, sr.) 24:03.46; 4. Julius Bor (Alabama, sr.) 24:05.88; 5. Dumisani Hlaselo (Florida, jr.) 24:08.32; 6. Eric Fernandez (Arkansas, so.) 24:10.12; 7. Solomon Haile (Arkansas, so.) 24:17.35; 8. Bryan Cantero (Arkansas, fr.) 24:22.16; 9. Carrison Kemei (Alabama, so.) 24:23.65; 10. Dey Tuach (Arkansas, jr.) 24:24.77.
Florida runners: 5. Dumisani Hlaselo, junior, 24:08.32; 13. Derek Wehunt, sophomore, 24:39.35; 15. Matt Mizereck, freshman, 24:42.94; 16. James Uthmeier, senior, 24:44.29; 20. Anthony Morales, senior, 24:51.50; 23. Danny Manco, junior, 25:00.63; 29. Josh Izewski, junior, 25:20.68; 33. Michael Anderson, junior, 25:29.46.
All-SEC first team: Dumisane Hlaselo.
All-SEC second team: Derek Wehunt.
SEC All-Freshmen team: Matt Mizereck.