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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Jeff Demps got the baton to start the anchor leg of the 4x100-meter relay - with UF already in the lead - and the race was over.

As he ran the final 100 meters, the crowd roared until he had crossed the finish line, giving UF a win in an NCAA regional-qualifying 39.22 seconds on the final day of the Florida Relays held in James G. Pressly Stadium.

After a weather-hampered meet in Tallahassee, the home meet proved to be just what UF needed.

The Gators dominated the two-day event and had athletes earn new personal bests, 39 NCAA regional-qualifying marks and school records.

UF's most dazzling performance came in the men's 4x400 relay, which is traditionally the last event run and UF's most successful event.

In the fastest heat, UF was challenged by a team of professionals, but freshman Christian Taylor held off the 2008 Olympic 400-meter hurdles and 4x400 relay champion Angelo Taylor on the final leg, which threw the crowd into a frenzy.

"It's not like anybody didn't expect us to do that," coach Mike Holloway said. "When you look at the talent pool we have on this team, we're supposed to run fast. I think the guys, they're confident, they believe in each other, and that's a result of what you saw tonight."

The 4x400 team was composed of senior R.J. Anderson, junior Calvin Smith, senior Carlos Phillips and Taylor.

In the 400-meter dash, Smith and Taylor battled each other for second and third. Both finished with regional-qualifying times, but Smith edged Taylor for second place by two hundredths of a second.

Smith added to his outstanding weekend performance with another close finish in the 200-meter dash. He took first in 20.68 seconds, a new personal-best time, while sophomore teammate Terrell Wilks took second in 20.70 seconds.

The close finish and competition between the two has been brewing since practice.

"I didn't want my teammate to beat me," Smith said. "We practice every day, and we talk a bunch of stuff, so we just have to show up at the meet."

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On the women's side, freshman Genevieve LaCaze ran a regional-qualifying 4:22.18 to take third in the 1,500-meter run and broke the UF freshman record with a win in 10:30.79 in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.

"Doing the steeple for the first time, I didn't know what to expect, but Julie (Northrup, who placed second) and I had a great time," LaCaze said. "We thought it was just a really fun event to keep doing. It was good to race on the track that I train on every day, especially for the steeple. There was so much crowd around the water jump, they were probably looking to see if we'd fall over one."

Holloway was pleased with how the team handled itself and the performance it put on for the home crowd, but he acknowledged the need for improvement.

"I thought we were fantastic. The staff was running the meet, so it's hard for us to coach them at an extremely high level. So for them to come out and dot their I's and cross their T's, so to speak, and do what they are supposed to do, (it) just tells you the maturity we have here. … We are not satisfied with being second and 12th indoors. We want to be better."

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