Track & Field Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The milestone victory was in the books and the shiny trophy on the bus when Gators track and field coach Mike Holloway took his seat late Saturday afternoon in Des Moines, Iowa.
The Gators were about to leave for the airport and the flight home when Holloway, his head still swimming at the day's events, checked his smartphone.
The messages had poured in since Holloway last looked at his phone. There were about 80 text messages and more than 40 emails.
They were from old high school teammates in Ohio, from former athletes he coached at Florida and Gainesville's Buchholz High, from friends and family, from UF officials and colleagues in track and field.
It wasn't Holloway's birthday, but it sure felt like it.
After being so close for so long, Holloway's Gators men's track team finally captured the school's first NCAA Outdoor title.
Holloway joked to reporters immediately after Florida's surprising victory that some of his friends nicknamed him "Coach Silver Trophy" because the Gators finished second so much -- three times in the last eight years.
The close-but-no-cigar routine had played out in excruciating ways the past three seasons. Florida finished in the top three each year at the NCAA Outdoor Championships from 2009-11 -- missing out on a title by a combined five points.
Yes, a measly five points.
The Gators didn't come up short on Saturday at Drake University. They came up big, capturing the national title in the final event of the championship when the 4x400-meter relay of Dedric Dukes, Hugh Graham Jr., Leonardo Seymore and Tony McQuay delivered the trophy that Holloway kept a tight grip on for a while after the race.
"I wouldn't [let go],'' he said.
Despite being the bridesmaid so many times, Holloway watched the final event with a quiet confidence. The coolness swept over him after visiting with the 4x400 relay team in the warm-up area.
"Guys, this is simple,'' Holloway said. "You win the race, we win the meet."
McQuay flashed a big smile.
"We're going to be fine,'' he replied.
McQuay then went out and ran the best final leg of his life, rounding the track in 44.01 seconds to help the Gators set a Drake Stadium record of 3 minutes, .02 seconds.
Two days later, Holloway continued to talk about how fitting the end was.
"It's a very special moment and what made it even more special was the way it happened,'' Holloway said Monday. "It made it a true team thing by being able to win it in the 4x400.
"That was over a two-second personal-best for those guys this season. To do it at the NCAA Championships, the last event of the meet, the meet on the line, you talk about guys responding to pressure, those four guys did it in a big way."
There were other huge performances that allowed the Gators to win the title, edging SEC rival LSU 50-48.
There was Omar Craddock's triple-jump title. There was McQuay's title in the 400 meters. There was high jumper Dwight Barbiasz's third-place finish. And there was Eddie Lovett's fifth-place finish in the 110-meter hurdles.
Lovett's performance resulted in what turned out to be a crucial four points. This from a runner not expected to score in the event.
"Coach, I was trying to win the thing,'' Lovett said after the race.
"His effort allowed the 4x400 team to do what they did,'' said Holloway. "That has not been lost on any of us. I think Eddie's attitude and effort in that race kind of typified what we were about all weekend long. We just kept fighting."
The Florida men arrived in Des Moines in an unfamiliar position. They have been a favorite the past few years, and while they were expected to contend, there was a belief that without sprinter Jeff Demps (injury) and decathlete Gray Horn (ineligible to qualify) the Gators could not win.
After all, with Demps and Horn not competing, the Gators did not have one senior on the roster participating in the NCAA Finals.
No one takes those kinds of odds. Well, except Holloway, in his 11th season as the men's head coach and sixth leading both programs.
"When we got on the plane to go to Des Moines, there wasn't a thought in my mind that we couldn't win the championship,'' Holloway said. "We thought we could score 50 to 58 points."
Under Holloway's direction depth has been a staple of the program. He prefers to build a roster that can score in the sprints as well as field events.
That was never more on display than in Des Moines when the Gators scored 24 points in sprints/hurdles and 26 in field events.
Regardless of what happened at the NCAA Finals, Holloway already had a memorable summer ahead as an assistant coach with the U.S. National Team at the London Olympics.
The Gators' win in Des Moines served as quite a kickoff. The NCAA Championship trophy is expected to find its permanent home in UF's Lemerand Center on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Holloway's head continues to spin a little.
"It's been a bit of a whirlwind,'' he said of the past couple of days. "We made history. It's something that had never been done before here, so I think that's important to everybody involved."
Perhaps to the head coach more than anyone else.