Thursday September 1, 2011Gator Cross Country Embarks on 2011 Campaign Friday at Western Carolina Invitational
Florida’s USTFCCCA top 30 men’s and women’s cross country teams will embark on the 2011 campaign with a road competition Friday evening in Cullowhee, N.C., at the Western Carolina Invitational, a five-team event featuring invitational host Western Carolina, UNC-Asheville, North Greenville and Warren Willson, along with the Gators.
For the first time in six years, the Orange and Blue will kick off the fall campaign on the road with two invitationals Sept. 2 (Western Carolina) and Sept. 9 (South Florida) before returning home for the 2011 Mountain Dew Invitational at UF’s Mark Bostick Golf Course.
“We’re going to run a little earlier this year to get things kicked off starting with Friday’s meet,” assistant track and field and cross country coach Todd Morgan said. “We’re training and running really hard right now. It will be nice to have a little bit cooler weather in North Carolina in the mountains to spend some time together and get to know each other. We have five new men and five new women. So far, the chemistry is great. We hopefully will see some new faces as factors in the Gators’ success this fall.”
The WCU Invitational will take the Gators away from the familiar Florida terrain on a run through the mountains in Cullowhee, as the No. 22 women will take on a two-mile run, while the No. 26 men will start 2011 with a 5K race at Friday’s event. The Catamounts are hosting their home invitational for the ninth time since 2000 and enter the run as the defending team champions after sweeping both sides last season. The women will take to the course at 6:30 p.m. (ET), followed immediately by the men’s race at approximately 7 p.m. (ET).
For the Gator women, the Western Carolina Invitational is the first stop on the road to a hopeful SEC Championship three-peat season after claiming both the 2009 and 2010 SEC Championship titles for the program’s fifth league championship title. The women’s squad will look to earn a sixth consecutive automatic team bid to the NCAA Championship finale in Terre Haute, Ind., at the end of November. The Gators will look to the leadership of senior Genevieve LaCaze (Daisy Hill, Australia) and sophomore standout Cory McGee (Pass Christian, Miss.) to lead the way.
“We’re excited, we set some high team goals for both teams this season and I feel like we’ve gotten started on the right foot to make those goals happen,” Morgan added. “Gen and Cory did some great things last year on the track and are so fit and more sharp that they have ever been at this point in the year. Their contributions were so great during the track season, which made me excited that they would continue over to the fall and create new leadership for us. Gen has always been a great, stable leader, but her performance has improved. Cory is really looking to have a much better fall than she did last year, which she’s well on her way to doing.”
Lacaze, a three-time All-SEC honoree and NCAA Championship competitor has also picked up All-South Region honors each of her three years as a Gator thus far. She ran Florida’s fastest 5K and 6K races last season, helping UF to its second consecutive SEC Championship and finished in the top three for the Gators in five of six meets, including being UF’s top scorer twice. LaCaze additionally paced Florida at the 2010 NCAA South Region Championship, where she placed sixth in the field, clocking the third-fastest time in Florida history (20:06.10).
McGee will look to be a solid contributor for Florida this year after one season of both cross country and track under her belt. Through her inaugural cross country campaign last season, McGee finished fourth or better in six Gator meets, including crossing the finish line third for the Gators at the 2010 NCAA Championship, while picking up SEC All-Freshman and All-South Region honors. She ran a Top 10 Florida time at the 2010 South Region Championship and translated that success to the track last spring as the 2011 SEC Champion in the indoor mile, while earning All-America honors for her 10th place NCAA finishes in the indoor mile and outdoor 1500-meter run.
Florida’s men will look to the Catamounts’ invite as the first meet in redefining the squad after the loss of several seniors in 2010. Senior Josh Izewski (Doylestown, Pa.), junior Derek Wehunt (Odessa, Fla.) and two sophomores in Matt Mizereck (Tallahassee, Fla.) and Mark Parrish (Tampa, Fla.) will look to lead this year’s men’s squad.
“They’ve become closer as a unit. We are young, but we have a couple good groups of recruiting classes now and Derek (Wehunt) and Josh (Izewski) are two guys that will provide good leadership,” Morgan said of the men’s team. “Last year, this team was third at the SEC meet, but point total-wise not far off from being in the hunt. With what’s shaking up and down in the conference, these guys are focused on being a factor at the SEC meet. Obviously anytime we go to run, we’re running to win it. We know it’s going to take a lot to get there. We have some good teams in this conference, but they’re going to be swinging for that and being at the NCAA meet at the end of the fall in November – that’s what’s on the horizon for the guys.”
Izewski, the lone senior on the team, scored in three of five meets for the Gators in 2010, including a first-place overall finish at UF’s Mountain Dew Invitational. He clocked career-best times in his 8K (Wisconsin adidas Invitational) and 10K (NCAA South Region Championship) races his junior year, while turning in three top-three finishes for UF in 2010. Mizereck picked up SEC All-Freshman honors in his first year with the Gators.
Last year, Florida’s men turned in third-place finishes at both the SEC Championship and NCAA South Region Championship competitions, their best finishes at each of those respective events since 2007 – the 14th consecutive season with a top-five finish at the NCAA Regional and seventh time in the last nine seasons achieving a top three finish at SECs.
Both teams were ranked No. 2 in the South Region behind Florida State in the USTFCCCA’s preseason regional rankings earlier this week, while just last week UF’s women’s cross country team was picked by vote of the league’s head coaches to claim its third straight SEC title in the 2011 SEC preseason coaches poll. Florida’s men were selected to finish third in the conference. The UF women earned six first-place votes to edge out the women’s team from Arkansas (5), while Florida’s men were a preseason number three pick behind Alabama and Arkansas.
With new chapters in the history books for both teams beginning Friday in Cullowhee, Gator fans can follow both squads’ meet results and recaps on www.GatorZone.com/crosscountry and updates on Twitter @GatorZoneXCntry. Fans can also catch the Gators in action at home at the 2011 Mountain Dew Invitational Sept. 24 at UF’s Mark Bostick Golf Course, where admission is free for the event.