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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The UF cross country teams have one more step to take before the NCAA Championships.

The Gators will compete in the South Regional in Knoxville, Tenn., on Saturday, hoping to secure an automatic bid to the national championship meet by taking one of the top two spots.

But even with the possible national implications of Saturday's meet, UF coach Todd Morgan is not looking ahead.

"One of our goals has to do with what we can do in the national meet, but that never happens if we don't take care of business on Saturday," he said. "Right now, the one and only focus is this Saturday and the regional meet."

No. 3 Florida State will be the toughest competition for the No. 15 women in the 6K race, but UF is still in position to lock down one of the automatic bids, as the Gators finished ahead of the three teams ranked third through fifth - Tennessee, Georgia and Auburn - at the Southeastern Conference Championships.

"It's no surprise we're gunning for one of the top two spots, the automatic bids," Morgan said. "Florida State beat us at the Notre Dame meet, but we'd like to go against them again and make a run at them."

The men will also face a talented FSU squad, and UF has already raced against its strongest opposition, No. 5 Alabama and No. 12 Auburn, falling behind both in the SEC Championships.

It will be the first 10K race of the season for the men, who have been running 8Ks until now. Although the added distance would appear to make things more difficult, junior Sean Blaney thinks the Gators' training has prepared them for this part of the season.

"Most of our guys are thinking that we get to run a bunch of short 8Ks all year, then we get to run the race we want," Blaney said. "Most of our team is strength-oriented, not necessarily speed-oriented."

That should work to UF's advantage heading into the final two races of the season, but Morgan said he already feels both teams are ahead of where they were last year.

"This is a better team, and I think they showed that at the SEC meet. But they're not just going to hand us a top-10 finish at the NCAA meet, and that's one of our goals."

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