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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The last time UF's men and women won Southeastern Conference Indoor titles was 2004 in Lexington, Ky. This weekend, UF track and field returns to this familiar site, hoping for the same result.

Coming off their best season performance in the split Tyson Invitational and the Iowa State Classic, the Gators will look to the experience of their upperclassmen to lead them.

In addition to already competing in Kentucky this season, UF has athletes who have already had success in previous SEC Championships.

UF traveled to Kentucky for the indoor season opener back in January, when the team adjusted to the oversized track and captured one NCAA automatic-qualifying mark and seven NCAA provisional-qualifying marks.

The teams hope to use this experience to aid them in their SEC Indoor title quest.

"We know the track. We've been there," coach Mike Holloway said. "It makes you a little bit more comfortable."

On the men's side, junior Calvin Smith, who has consistently ran provisional-qualifying times this season, was an SEC Outdoor champion in the 400-meter dash as a freshman.

At the SEC Indoor Championships during his sophomore season, Smith claimed second and fourth places in the 400-meter and the 200-meter dash, respectively.

Smith thinks his experience will somewhat lighten his load.

"My experience should help me. I've been there before, so I'm not gonna be as nervous," Smith said. "I know what to expect. I know everybody's gonna bring it, so I need to bring it, too. I feel like I should go out there and compete better than I did the first two years and drop my time."

Joining Smith in the experience and success column is senior Carlos Phillips.

In his freshman season, Phillips was part of UF's distance medley relay team that took first place at the SEC Indoor Championships. He finished fifth in the 800-meter run during the Championships.

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As a sophomore, he was seventh in the 800 and fifth as a part of the 4x400-meter relay team at the SEC Indoor Championships. Phillips had his best SEC Championships performance as a junior. He placed fifth in the 800 at the Outdoor Championships, seventh in the 800 and third as a part of the distance medley relay at the Indoor Championships.

With the aid of his prior experience, Phillips looks to achieve his goal of capturing the elusive SEC 800 title in Kentucky this weekend.

On the women's side, junior shot-putter and weekly NCAA automatic-qualifier Mariam Kevkhishvili also brings previous SEC Championships success.

The reigning NCAA champion won the SEC Outdoor Championships as a freshman and was a runner-up as a sophomore.

This weekend, Kevkhishvili will use this experience coupled with prior competition on the Kentucky track to continue her successful season.

"Their training, their God-given abilities come into large play here, but I think the biggest is that we've prepared very well," Holloway said. "As long as we stay focused and as long as we go in there with great determination, we'll do just fine."

The competition gets underway Friday at 4:30 p.m. with the women's pentathlon.

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