Florida set for NCAA South Region meet

Just two weeks after UF’s sixth all-time SEC Championship on the women’s side — the third in the last four years — and the men’s 16th straight top-five SEC finish at Percy Warner Park in Nashville, Tenn., the 2012 Florida cross country squads will hit the road to Tallahassee aiming for top-two finishes on both sides at the 2012 NCAA South Region Cross Country Championship.

The top two team finishers at the nine NCAA Regional sites across the country will automatically qualify for the 2012 NCAA Championship in Louisville, Ky., Nov. 17. Select teams and individuals from squads outside the top two at each regional could still qualify for NCAAs with several at-large bids, which will be announced by the NCAA over the weekend.

The NCAA South Region Championship will be held on Friday, Nov. 9, at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee, Fla., with FSU serving as host institution. Races are scheduled for 8:30 a.m. (Women’s 6k) and 9:15 a.m. (Men’s 10k). The South Region field will include representatives from 38 women’s teams (29 full squads, plus 21 individuals) and 33 men’s teams (28 full, 11 individuals), with nearly 200 runners in each race.

Florida’s men, jumping from an 8K to a 10K at regionals, will be looking for a second-consecutive NCAA Championship berth after finishing second at the 2011 NCAA South Regional in Tuscaloosa, while the USTFCCCA No. 14-ranked Florida women will be looking to qualify as a team for the sixth time in the last seven years after having three individual representatives at NCAAs last season after a third place regional finish.

At last season’s NCAA South Region Championship, junior Mark Parrish (Tampa, Fla.) turned in the top finish for the Gators in men’s 10k action with a fifth-place (31:05.2) showing, while graduated senior Genevieve LaCaze was fourth as Florida’s highest finisher on the women’s side last season in Tuscaloosa. Current senior Florence Ngetich (Eldama Ravine, Kenya) was UF’s highest returning finisher in ninth (20:46.9) at last year’s regional championship.

The Gators have only had one South Region individual champion on the men’s side, as Steve Zieminski picked up the men’s victory in 2004 (29:35.86), while the women own four regional championships, one from Shelly Steely (’84), one from Coralena Velson (1992), one from Becki Wells (1997) and the most recent from Rebecca Lowe in 2009.

The UF men’s squad has twice won regionals: 1986 and 1990. On the women’s side, the Gators have three regional championships: 1997, 1998 and 2009 (was District IX in 1997, as South Region started in 1998).

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).

Florida’s six SEC titles on the women’s side are the second-most for a SEC women’s squad. Seven UF runners ran lifetime bests and seven turned in top-25 finishes, led by Ngetich (2nd) and Parrish (7th), at the 2012 league meet Oct. 26 in Nashville. UF assistant track and cross country coach Paul Spangler was named the 2012 SEC Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year just Friday, while seven Gator runners were named All-SEC selections following the league championship Oct. 26.

Louisville will play host to the 2012 NCAA Championships Nov. 17. 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 – 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), while the men were sixth in 1990 for the men’s program’s best NCAA finish.

Courtesy of UF Communications