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Gators coach Mike Holloway talks to his men's team following Saturday's runner-up finish at the NCAA Indoor Finals.

Sunday March 10, 2013Gators Plan to Use Indoor Runner-up Finish as Motivation Heading Into Outdoor Season

Gators coach Mike Holloway talks to his men's team following Saturday's runner-up finish at the NCAA Indoor Finals.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- The Gators men's track team showed up here at the Randal Tyson Track Complex on Saturday seeking to run deeper into the record books.

The three-time defending NCAA Indoor champions could join Arkansas as the only program in history to win four consecutive indoor titles. The host Razorbacks, seeking their first national title in seven years, provided the biggest hurdle.

In the end, the Razorbacks were too deep and too inspired in front of their home fans, claiming the program's 20th indoor national title. The crowd broke out Arkansas' trademark Woo Pig Sooie chant shortly after the Razorbacks clinched the title when Kamoy Campbell placed second in the 3,000 meters, the next-to-last event.

"From the beginning I knew it was going to be close,'' said Gators junior Sean Obinwa, who scored five points for Florida with a fourth-place finish in the 800 meters. "We just came up a little short this time."

The final margin: Arkansas 74, Florida 59.

While the Gators did fall short of their ultimate goal, it's difficult to call what they did a failure. They were too good.

Florida's 59 points are more than they scored in any of their three national title seasons. The Gators won their first indoor national title in 2010 with 57 points, and the past two years 52 points were enough for the Gators to return home with the NCAA championship trophy.

And consider these facts: Florida's 59 points are the most in the event's 49-year history for the runner-up and would have been enough to claim every national indoor championship dating back to 2002 when Tennessee won the title with 62.5 points.

Florida trailed Arkansas by 16 points after Friday's competition and closed to within 56-51 when Omar Craddock placed second and Marquis Dendy fourth in the triple jump Saturday.

The title was within reach until the Gators watched Campbell close strong on the final lap in the 800.

Shortly after the Gators finished second in the 4x400 relay to Arkansas in the final event, Gators coach Mike Holloway gathered his men's team before they accepted the runner-up trophy.

He told them to remember the feeling of finishing second but to understand they performed well as they get ready to open the outdoor season, which is considered the program's strength.

"We didn't do anything wrong,'' Holloway said. "The Gators left their mark on the building. When we're outside, where we live and breath, we'll see them in a few months."

The Gators won a pair of individual national titles with Dendy claiming the long jump title Friday and Eddie Lovett making history Saturday night. Lovett won the 60-meter hurdles in 7.50 seconds, an NCAA Indoor Finals record.

Lovett overcame what he considered a weak start to blister his way to the finish line.

"I made it up in between the hurdles,'' Lovett said. "After Hurdle 3, I wasn't really looking at anyone else, but it's kind of like a big dragon chasing after you. I just kept focused and kept moving. I'm just happy [to set the record]."

As the Gators climbed to the top the past few years under Holloway, they featured not just some of the top athletes in collegiate track, but in the world.

When they won their first national indoor title in 2010, Christian Taylor won the triple jump. He won gold in the event last summer at the London Games. When they won their second national title in 2011, Will Claye won the triple jump. Claye won silver at the London Games.

And a year ago as the Gators three-peated, sprinter Jeff Demps claimed his third consecutive national indoor title in the 60 meters and Tony McQuay won the 400 meters national title. Both Demps and McQuay medaled at the London Games in relays.

That is a lot of elite talent for any program to replace, but based on Saturday's performance, the Gators remain on the right track to contend for national championships for years to come.

A pair of freshmen -- Arman Hall and Najee Glass -- ran on the 4x400 relay team that finished in 3:03.71, the second-best time in NCAA Indoor Finals history behind only the 3:03.50 winning time Arkansas posted Saturday. The other two runners for Florida's 4x400 relay team Saturday were sophomores Dedric Dukes and Hugh Graham Jr.

"It's crazy to see that we have freshmen coming in here and making the finals for the 400,'' Obinwa said. "There's a lot of talent on our team and outdoors is just a whole new game for somebody else to step up. You've just got to take the best out of this and run with it."

That's the plan. The Gators are the defending NCAA outdoor champions and have finished in the top three for four consecutive years.

The disappointment of watching Arkansas celebrate ending their streak of indoor titles on Saturday is expected to fade away quickly for the Gators.

They believe their best is yet to come. If Holloway sees them drift from that belief, he has a good idea on how to snap them back to form.

"Any time we want to slack a little bit, I'll just bring the trophy out there and set it in the middle of the field so they can see it -- that we got second indoors,'' he said.

Obinwa isn't concerned about that being an issue. Not with this team. Not after what happened Saturday.

"It's like a wake-up call,'' he said. "Coming in as a three-time champion, not every year is guaranteed. You've got to work really hard to do your best and get back here. Coming in second today, it makes you hungry. It makes you to really want to get back to Gainesville and work really hard so we can come back three months later and come to the national meet and show Arkansas and all the other schools that hey, we have another title to defend.

"I'm ready to go."

 

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