Tuesday September 6, 2011Florida Freshmen Runners Jimmy Clark and Grace VanDeGrift Pick Up SEC Cross Country Weekly Honors
Gator freshmen cross country runners Jimmy Clark (St. Johns, Fla.) and Grace VanDeGrift (Durant, Fla.) were both named SEC Freshmen of the Week for their inaugural performances in a Gator uniform, announced by the league office Tuesday afternoon. Clark and VanDeGrift led the Gator cross country squads to season-opening team victories at the Western Carolina Invitational Sept. 2 in Cullowhee, N.C. Both UF’s men and women posted a best-possible 15 team points after sweeping first through fifth in each race – a 5K for the men and a two-mile run for the women. The conference honor is the first collegiate accolade for both Clark and VanDeGrift, as Clark was named the Men’s Freshman of the Week and VanDeGrift was the co-Women’s Freshman of the Week alongside Jessica Jackson from Arkansas.
In his first meet as a Gator, Clark topped the 48-man field at the WCU Catamounts’ Invitational for his first collegiate victory, posting a 5K time of 15:39.11. Clark became the first Florida male freshman since 2003 to win his opening race as a Gator, as former UF runner Steven Hassen won the Gator Invitational as a freshman in ’03. Clark paced the Florida pack through the mountains in Cullowhee, averaging a 5:30.6 mile, enabling UF to sweep one-through-five for its first team victory of the 2011 season.
VanDeGrift checked in as the top freshman female finisher in North Carolina, solidifying a fourth-place showing in her first race donning the Orange and Blue after clocking a 10:34.12 two-mile race. With her top-five finish in the field, VanDeGrift became the first UF female freshman since 2008 to place in the top five overall in her season-opening race as a Gator. She’s one of just three UF freshman runners since 2001 to accomplish the feat, as current senior Genevieve LaCaze did so in 2008, while former Gator Ali Crabb recorded a top-five finish in her first race as a freshman in 2007. VanDeGrift averaged a 5.47.1 mile and was just 1.1 seconds off a top-three finish. Not only did the women’s squad sweep the top five, but the Gators placed eight runners in the top 10.
With the season opener behind them, the Florida looks forward to staying local this week and is set to head down to the South Florida Invitational in Tampa Sept. 9 at the Claw. Race time is slated for 6 p.m. (ET). For complete results and a recap following Friday’s race, visit www.GatorZone.com/crosscountry and follow the Gators on Twitter @GatorZoneXCntry and @GZTrackField.