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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Jeremy Criscione makes running five miles in 24 and a half minutes look easy.

The senior seemed as if he was just getting warmed up as he crossed the finish line in first place Saturday morning, the second time in three years he has won the men's 8-kilometer race at the annual Mountain Dew Invitational on the UF Golf Course.

Criscione said he felt "pretty relaxed" throughout the race, which might explain his calm demeanor as he finished the first race of the season 17 seconds ahead of every one else.

Both UF cross country teams easily won their respective races, defeating more than a dozen other Florida schools. This is the fourth straight year both the men and women have taken first in the invitational.

The men, ranked fourth in the South Region, had 10 of the top 12 runners in their 8K race, while the women took eight of the top 10 spots in their 5K race.

Freshman Genevieve LaCaze led the women's team, which is ranked No. 15 in the nation, with a time of 17:34.79, the fifth-fastest time ever run in a 5K race on the UF Golf Course. She was followed by sophomore Ali Crabb, who finished just over two seconds behind LaCaze, and senior Sara Petrick, who clocked in at 17:53.36.

The women totaled 17 points - 62 fewer than second-place South Florida. The top five runners for each team are awarded points, which correlate directly to the spot in which they finish the race. So the top five Gators finished with as many points as the runner who finished in 17th.

Coach Todd Morgan even drew comparisons to last year's squad, which ended the year ranked No. 11 in the nation.

"Looking at the results and the training, the women are really ahead of where we were even last year," Morgan said. "And that was a good team."

The UF men were equally impressive in their 8K race, finishing with 15 total points - 108 fewer than second-place North Florida. Criscione, whose final time was 24:38.75, was followed by junior Matt Hensley (24:55.76) and junior Sean Blaney (25:00.24).

Criscione said the team's strategy of sticking together for the first two or three miles was effective, and Morgan attributed some of the team's success to the senior's leadership.

"Jeremy really helped the team out a lot and got the tempo going early, so we had guys running quick," Morgan said.

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LaCaze, the unexpected star of the day, said running on the UF Golf Course was advantageous for her. She noted the hilly terrain, particularly over the last mile of the course, was similar to that of her native Australia, and that worked to her advantage, particularly against runners used to Florida's flat ground.

There was another favorable aspect of running in Gainesville for the new Gator, though.

"I love the support," LaCaze said of the hundreds of fans who showed up. "Not as many people know me out there, but you hear the 'Go Gators,' and you know that's for you."

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