If Saturday's Pre-NCAA Invitational was a preview of the NCAA Championship, the UF women's cross country team looks like it could be competing for a national title in late November.
The No. 15 Gators placed fifth with 233 points against 40 of the nation's top teams in the Women's 6K Blue Team race in Terre Haute, Ind.
"We've proven that we're one of the top teams in the country, and we want to just continue to improve on that," UF coach Todd Morgan said.
Jacy Kruzel led the way for the Gators for the second straight meet, coming in 22nd with a time of 20:52.3. The senior was followed by freshman Genevieve LaCaze, who ran her first 6K race in America in 21:05.4 for a 32nd-place finish.
"The fact that we came in fifth is absolutely amazing because we came in fifth at Notre Dame," said LaCaze, a native of Australia, "but this was so much more competitive, and there were so many more people at this one."
No. 1 Washington easily took first place and finished with four of the top-10 runners.
Sophomore Ali Crabb, who has been one of the Gators' three best runners in every race in which she has participated, took 35th place with a time of 21:07.5. Sophomore Charlotte Browning (67th, 21:28.2) and senior Sara Petrick (77th, 21:34.1) were the other scorers.
The non-scoring runners - sophomore Kaitlin Shiver and junior Julie Northrup - finished 89th and 102nd, respectively, with just over a minute separating the first and seventh Gators' times.
Senior Jeremy Criscione finished sixth overall in the Men's 8K White Team race with a time of 23:38.7. The performance topped his own school-record 8K time by .3 seconds.
"It's a competitive meet, and he just put a stamp on his ability and what he can do," Morgan said. "He's going to lead us into the championship meets."
Criscione led the men's team, which racked up 328 points, to a 12th-place finish Saturday.
"Our goal was to get inside the top 10, and we did miss that," Morgan said. "But in a meet this big, where we finish is a blink of an eye off of our goal, so we're leaving this with a positive feeling for the men's team."
Junior Justin Taylor was the second Gator to cross the finish line, clocking in at 24:22.1 for a 44th-place finish. Taylor was followed by juniors Sean Blaney (50th, 24:24.4) and Aaron Kindt (108th, 24:58.2) and sophomore Anthony Morales (120th, 25:03.8).
Morgan said his team is ready for the smaller, less nationally competitive Southeastern Conference Championship after running in Terre Haute, adding that the team is in the right mindset to compete for an SEC title in Starkville, Miss., on Nov. 3.
"We're carrying a lot of momentum into the SEC meet," he said. "We know that we're continuing to improve, and we're leaving here hungry for more."