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Monday, June 17, 2024

Running has always come naturally for Josh Izewski.

Izewski, last week's Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week, switched his focus from swimming to cross country in only his senior year of high school, and he hasn't looked back since then.

"I always did pretty well (at running) - even better than in swimming, even though I wasn't training," said Izewski, the fourth-place finisher in the season-opening Mountain Dew Invitational on Sept. 20.

Izewski and the rest of the Gators will travel to South Bend, Ind., today to compete in the 53rd Notre Dame Invitational on the Notre Dame Golf Course.

The No. 14 women's team will compete against 11 nationally ranked teams, including No. 3 Florida State, and the men's team, ranked fourth in the South Region, will face seven nationally ranked teams, notably No. 8 Michigan.

The same women's lineup that took nine of the top 10 spots in the Mountain Dew Invitational will compete for the Gators.

Cross country coach Todd Morgan said sophomore Rebecca Lowe, one of UF's top runners from last season, will miss the meet due to the same nagging injuries that kept her out of the first race.

Justin Taylor will join the same men's team that finished in nine of the top 10 spots in the first race, in which senior Jeremy Criscione cruised to a first-place finish.

The team's focus in training remains on the meets at the end of the year, but Criscione said he looks forward to running in a different, colder environment against tougher competition.

Morgan noted that the runners' performance on the road against highly ranked opponents will serve as an indicator of the team's potential early in the season.

"While there's some anxiety for us to run really well against some really good teams, it's a good first test," Morgan said. "And I'm fully prepared for it to go well."

The meet will certainly show where UF falls on a national level, but Morgan also said the trip to South Bend will give some of the younger runners, like Izewski, a chance to gain more experience.

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"He's a competitive, focused guy, and it's going to show," Morgan said. "As he continues to run more, he's going to get even better."

Criscione added that Izewski has handled the transition from the 5K races he ran in high school to 8K races very well.

But the freshman still has room to improve.

"When I got to three miles in the (first) race, I was like, 'Man, I'd be done in high school,'" Izewski said. "It's probably going to take another race or so to get mentally used to it, but if you don't really think about it that much, it's not that much harder."

It clearly wasn't too difficult for Izewski. He finished his first college 8K race in 25:15.94 with an average mile of 5:05.

And his coach thinks he's just scratched the surface.

"For a kid that doesn't have a huge background in running," Morgan said, "I knew that his upside was huge."

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