When the UF cross country team lines up to start the Walt Disney World Classic this Saturday, one of the Gators will already have a first-place finish at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex under his belt.
It won't be record-setting senior Jeremy Criscione or SEC Freshman of the Week Genevieve LaCaze. It will be senior Chris Mullaney.
Mullaney, who transferred to UF from Central Florida after his freshman year, won the Disney Classic three years ago. Now, as an experienced upperclassman, he will have to help lead a UF team that will rest most of its top runners this weekend.
"It'll help to have been there before," he said. "I'll have a feel for the course and know what to expect."
Mullaney started the season with a seventh-place finish in the Mountain Dew Invitational in Gainesville but came in 196th at the Notre Dame Invitational in South Bend, Ind., a performance he's looking to improve upon.
"That's how the season goes," he said. "You have ups and downs, and I'm going to just put that one behind me."
Cross country coach Todd Morgan said he is resting many of his top runners this weekend, including all 10 of the scoring runners from last Saturday's Notre Dame Invitational, in preparation for the Pre-NCAA Invitational in Terre Haute, Ind., on Oct. 18.
"Last week was Notre Dame, and the pre-nationals meet is in one week," Morgan said. "Those are two really big competitions for us. There needs to be some separation between those two meets so we can get some training in."
The competition at Lake Buena Vista will consist primarily of Florida schools like Miami, Florida International and Florida Atlantic, so the Gators will face fewer nationally ranked teams than they did at Notre Dame.
Morgan said the team's performance this week will help him evaluate who he chooses to compete in the Pre-NCAA Invitational and Southeastern Conference Championship later in the season. Seven runners from the team can race in the pre-nationals, while 10 can race in the SEC meet.
"There's a lot on the line individually because they want to run on the SEC team, and they have hopes of running in the regional and national meets as well," Morgan said.
Morgan added that he has had to alter the team's training this week to deal with the schedule. The runners all trained together at the beginning of the week, but they will now split into two different groups so the runners who are focusing on the Pre-NCAA meet can continue high-intensity training.