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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The UF men's and women's track and field teams ran for more than just records and national rankings Saturday in the O'Connell Center: The Gators competed to honor a friend, a mentor and a coach.

The 2008 Tom Jones Memorial Classic, named after late coach Tom Jones, provided the Gators an opportunity to remember their coach in their own way.

Jones guided the women's track program at UF for more than 15 years. He passed away on March 21 after a lengthy battle with cancer.

During his time at UF, Jones led the Gators to six Southeastern Conference titles.

"It got real emotional for me throughout the day," Coach Mike Holloway said. "It was the first time that we have been in here to compete without him."

Holloway and Jones had a special relationship.

"Tom was a great friend to a lot of people at this university," Holloway said. "He mentored me in a lot of ways. I learned a lot from him."

Jones was awarded a posthumous induction into the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame in December.

Senior sprinter Natalie Knight has her own way of remembering her coach.

"I have a patch that says 'CJ' under my uniform," Knight said. "I touch it before I get in the blocks. I say, 'This is for you, coach.'"

Knight honored Jones by winning the 200-meter dash with a time of 24.02 seconds.

The men's and women's teams combined for 11 wins at the meet. They also posted 10 NCAA provisional qualifying marks for the NCAA Indoor Championships.

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Junior Carlos Phillips, with a time of 1:50.55, won the 800-meter event by almost a full second.

"It was the best," Phillips said. "It was my first championship in the 800 here at home, so it was great to get the win."

Senior Lakecia Ealey continued her hot streak with a personal-best and NCAA provisional qualifying mark of 6.80 seconds in the 55-meter dash. She finished second overall in the event and first among college athletes. Ealey's time moved her into fourth place all-time on UF's indoor list.

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