Coach Todd Morgan is excited about Saturday morning's season-opening meet for many reasons. One of them is that he and his teams can sleep in their own beds before the race.
The UF cross country teams will begin their seasons with the annual Mountain Dew Invitational on the UF Golf Course, where the men and women have picked up wins the past two years.
Senior Jeremy Criscione, who missed the first race in 2007 after having minor surgery, won the invitational in 2006 and competed in the NCAA Championship last year.
Morgan takes over for the program after Jeff Pigg departed for the same job at Georgia. Having this meet at home, their only home meet of the season, helps the runners maintain their training routines.
The runners are also familiar with the territory, as they have been training on the UF Golf Course.
"Some runners have been putting in 70 to 75 miles per week, which is how marathon runners train," senior Sara Petrick said.
That should certainly help. But it's not everything. Morgan said keeping the runners in the right frame of mind for the season will be just as important as their training. The competition gets progressively more difficult as the season goes on, so it is critical for the team to start the season strong.
The Gators will face mostly Florida schools Saturday, but they will take on other talented programs from across the nation in their following meets.
Senior Jacy Kruzel, who ended last season as the Gators' top finisher in the NCAA Championship by placing 60th, said she wants to improve as a team even more than she hopes to improve individually.
But if the preseason polls are any indication, the Gators are already among the nation's top teams.
In the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association's preseason poll, the women's team was ranked No. 15, and in the South Regional Preseason Rankings, the women's team was ranked second in the region while the men's team was ranked fourth.
Although Morgan said the teams ranked about where he expected them to, the runners are not paying any attention to the recent hype.
"They mean nothing," Kruzel said of the preseason polls. "All that matters is what happens in November in Terre Haute (at the NCAA Championship)."
Criscione echoed Kruzel's opinion, noting that many things can affect a team as the season goes on.
"It's just what people think will happen," Criscione said. "Anything can happen out there."