First-year head coach Paul Spangler graduated from Alabama. He also received a master’s degree from Florida State. However, when the opportunity arose for the homegrown Florida boy to become the leader of UF’s cross country teams, he took advantage of it.

On Jan. 25, Florida hired Spangler as its cross country and assistant track coach, ending his 10-year tenure in the same position at the Virginia Military Institute.

“When the University of Florida offered me the job, it was something I certainly couldn’t pass up,” Spangler said. “Coaching at VMI was an extraordinary experience that not only helped me become a better coach, but a better recruiter. That’s something that will certainly help me here.”

Spangler understands the bar is set high for Florida after it won its first outdoor track and field championship in the spring.

“Here at Florida, you’ve got to be good,” he said. “You should be in position to win [a Southeastern Conference] championship and certainly do well at national championships. So, the expectation is there. There’s no doubt I’m going to bust my butt and help the athletes bust theirs, so we can have the success that the University of Florida expects.”

The men’s team returns all five of its leading point scorers from the 2011 squad, which competed at the NCAA Championships. They were picked in the SEC Preseason Coaches Poll to finish second in the SEC this season behind Arkansas.

The women bring back two runners who qualified individually for NCAAs last year — senior Florence Ngetich and junior Cory McGee. Florida was projected by the coaches poll to finish the season in third place behind Vanderbilt and Arkansas.

Spangler knows that before any conference championships are won, teams have to stay healthy.

“That’s half the battle,” he said. “If you touch on all the energy systems throughout the season, you’ll see them get better. That will help them stay stronger and injury-free.”

The men’s and women’s teams will compete in their only home meet of the season Saturday at the 24th annual Mountain Dew Invitational at the Mark Bostick Golf Course. The men’s 8K starts at 7:55 a.m., while the women’s 5K begins at 8:30 a.m.

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