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Sunday, April 21, 2024

As the end of the season approaches, the UF cross country teams have momentum on their side, but the Gators aren't ready to pat themselves on the back just yet.

The Gators are picking up steam at the right point of the season, as they travel to Starkville, Miss., for the Southeastern Conference Championship today. Although the field will not be as deep as it was at the Pre-NCAA Invitational, the competition will be just as talented.

"Anytime you leave a meet feeling good about yourself, it helps going into the next one," coach Todd Morgan said. "But you definitely don't want a satisfied feeling, and we're far from that."

No. 26 Arkansas, which has won 17 straight SEC titles, No. 5 Alabama and No. 11 Auburn will be the toughest competition for the No. 28 men's team, which broke into the top 30 for the first time all season after finishing 12th in Terre Haute, Ind.

"We're not backing down from those guys," Morgan said. "We've been SEC runner-ups two years in a row. So all the talk's on them, but we feel like we're going to show that we deserve some respect too."

The No. 14 women, fresh off their fifth-place finish at the pre-nationals, will also face a talented Razorbacks squad. The No. 13 Arkansas women have won 12 SEC Championships.

"It's going to be tough to beat Arkansas, but coach Morgan is telling us not to focus on that and just run it like any other race," sophomore Ali Crabb said.

Crabb, who has finished in the top 40 in every race this season, said the team's depth allows her to focus on running her own race instead of worrying about carrying the team or where she places.

Morgan praised the consistency and composure of Crabb and junior Sean Blaney, who has been equally reliable for the men's team this season.

"They approach everything in a calm manner, and when good athletes do that, they're going to perform well," Morgan said.

Blaney, who has been the third Gator to place in all three races this season, said his coach tells the runners to focus on getting the UF jerseys across the finish line rather than trying to "hit a home run."

As for the team's attitude after the pre-nationals, Blaney said he and the other runners are using their 12th-place finish as motivation for the SEC Championship.

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"We did well enough in the pre-nationals to be happy, but in the back of our minds, we all know that we should have done better," he said. "We're definitely pissed off enough that we want to do a lot better, and we're confident that we can."

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