Friday August 31, 2012Florida Cross Country Opens 2012 Season at Western Carolina Invitational Friday
For the second consecutive season, the Gator cross country squads will suit up for the 2012 season-opener in Cullowhee, N.C., at the Western Carolina Invitational Friday at the Catamount Athletic Complex.
The WCU Catamounts will host Florida, Charlotte, UNC-Asheville, Winthrop, Gardner-Webb, North Greenville and Warren Wilson in the evening invite, beginning at 6 p.m. with the womenís two-mile race, followed directly by the menís 5K event at approximately 6:25 p.m.
Last season, the Gators took Cullowhee by storm winning both the menís and womenís races, claiming the top five spots on each side to post menís and womenís team victories. Two Florida returners in Jimmy Clark (St. Johns, Fla.) and Florence Ngetich (Eldama Ravine, Kenya) jumped out of the gates quick for the Orange and Blue with victories in the 5K and two-mile race, respectively. Clark, the 2011 SEC Menís Freshman of the Year, became the first UF freshman since 2003 to win his opening race as a Gator at the meet.
Both the menís and womenís teams checked in at No. 3 in the South Region preseason rankings, released by the USTFCCCA Monday, and both squads were receiving votes in the USTFCCCA Top-25 national poll, released Tuesday by the New Orleans-based organization.
Last season, the Florida menís team captured second at the SEC Championship - its best finish since 2007 - en route to a second-place, automatic-qualifying team finish at the NCAA South Region Championships to earn the teamís first automatic bid to NCAAs since 2006. The Gators finished 30th as a squad at NCAAs behind the leadership of Clark and four other All-SEC honorees in Mark Parrish (Tampa, Fla.), Matt Mizereck (Tallahassee, Fla.), Eddie Garcia (Jacksonville, Fla.) and JL Hines (Orlando, Fla.). Parrish, Mizereck, Clark and Josh Izewski (Doylestown, Pa.) all turned in All-South Region performances in Tuscaloosa. Florida returns its entire scoring corps from SECs, the South Region Championships and 2011 NCAAs.
On the womenís side, the 2009 and 2010 SEC Champions raced to a third-place finish at SECs, while three individuals Ė Genevieve LaCaze, Ngetich and Cory McGee (Pass Christian, Miss.) Ė earned individual at-large bids to the NCAA Championships after a third-place team finish at the NCAA South Region Championship. Four women earned All-SEC honors in LaCaze, McGee, Ngetich and freshman Grace VanDeGrift (Durant, Fla.), while a total of five Gators were All-South Region picks Ė LaCaze, McGee, Ngetich, Stephanie Strasser (Fernandina Beach, Fla.) and Mandy Perkins (Ormond Beach, Fla.). The Gators will be without top NCAA finisher and 2012 Australian Olympian LaCaze, losing the track All-American to graduation, but will pick up highly touted recruits Julie Macedo (Wilmington, Del.) and Shelby Davidson (Melbourne, Fla.), along with 2011 latecomer and track athlete Agata Strausa (Riga, Latvia).
Clark, Parrish, McGee and Ngetich were all identified on the SECís preseason cross country watch list this week as key factors for the Gators this upcoming season.
The women will race at 6 p.m. ET Friday in Cullowhee, while the menís race will get under way at 6:25 p.m. ET. Visit www.GatorZone.com for a recap and results following the eveningís races or follow the Gators on Twitter @GatorZoneXCntry & @GZTrackField.
Following the WCU Invite, the Gators return home for a two-week training period before playing host to the 24th Annual Mountain Dew Invitational at UFís Mark Bostick Golf Course Sept. 15.