The level of UF's opposition will increase tremendously Saturday in the final and most competitive regular season event for the Gators men's and women's cross country teams.
Both squads will take their places in the Pre-NCAA Invitational in Terre Haute, Ind., the site of the NCAA Championship, against some of the nation?s top-ranked teams.
The men and the 20th-ranked women will be joined by nearly 50 ranked teams in the nation.
Leading the Gators will be junior Jeremy Criscione, who is coming off a second place finish at the Auburn Invitational just two weeks ago where he posted a career-best time of 23:52.69.
The race was his first since undergoing hernia surgery before the season began.
Criscione said he feels like he can build on that finish and help the men keep up their current pace to compete with the best teams in the country.
BA lot of the guys have been running really well, so hopefully we can all stay pretty close and try and keep the time in our spread pretty close,C he said. BIf we can get a few of us up there in the top 10 to 20, that would help the team score out a lot.C
The men have finished third in the meet each of the past two years, and Criscione said the team is ready for the challenge to claim another high result.
BAnything?s possible,C he said. BIf we can bring a few guys a lot closer to the front … then we can be in the top five.C
The women will take the course for their 6k run following the men?s race and will be led by junior Jacy Kruzel.
Kruzel, who was named Southeastern Conference Female Athlete of the Week on Oct. 3, is coming off a career-best 5k time of 16:57.74 at the Auburn Invitational. She was the first UF runner to finish in less than 17 minutes since 1986.
Despite her accomplishments, she has only one focus this weekend.
BIt?s all about beating the other ranked teams,C she said.
Kruzel noted that defeating then-No. 14 Iowa at the last meet was exciting for the team and gave them a step in the right direction.
She knows the challenge the Gators face on Saturday will be extremely difficult, but she and her teammates won?t stand down.
BThere?s definitely big, top-10 teams, so we just have to go in there and not get scared that we can?t compete against them,C she said. BWe have just as much ability and even probably more motivation.C