When the UF men’s and women’s cross country teams compete at the FSU Invitational today they will do so without top talent.
Seven members of each squad will be held out of this week’s race in preparation for the Oct. 16 Pre-NCAA Invitational in Terre Haute, Ind., where the Gators will run against 37 ranked teams.
Even though there will be only two ranked programs, FSU and UF, competing in Tallahassee on Friday, the stakes are still high for runners looking to secure one of the last open spots.
In the first two meets of the season, sophomores Danny Manco and Alex Schanen, and freshman Stephanie Strasser have finished in the top eight for the Gators in each race. But as their teammates come back from injury and into race form they have been pushed down the depth chart.
“Any other year I would’ve been taking them to Pre-NCAAs, but this year, the group’s really tight and strong,” UF cross country coach Todd Morgan said. “They’d be in a lot of school’s top fives and maybe even a lot of school’s number ones. But that’s the price sometimes of being on a really good team.”
Four UF women’s runners were held out of last week’s Wisconsin adidas Invitational and are pegged to run in Indiana, the same for the men’s team.
Strasser, who has placed fifth and sixth on the team during her first two races, said she was disappointed after missing out on the Pre-NCAA squad but looks forward to gauging her form in Tallahassee.
“I’m kind of in the leadership role this week,” Strasser said. “I want to go out there and just go on to win it pretty much and be as close to the front as I can be.”
The Gators women’s team fell 20 spots to No. 27 after a seventh-place finish at the Wisconsin Invitational. A win over No. 3 FSU could go a long way in helping UF’s ranking.
In contrast, the men’s team was helped by its seventh-place finish, moving into the rankings at No. 30.
Manco said he expects a different dynamic for the men’s race without some of UF’s top runners to “feed off of” and pace the team. Like Strasser, he wants to assume a leadership position during the race, as he has run FSU’s course multiple times as a Gator and in high school.
“It’s still an 8K, so you can’t let down your guard,” Manco said. “Little things can happen and surprise you here and there and before you know it, bad things happen. It’s a race for a reason, so you can never take it lightly.”
Even with the absence of team leaders and the added incentive of championship-meet spots on the line, he said he doesn’t expect anyone to approach the meet with the intent of seeking individual glory.
The FSU Invitational starts at 6:20 p.m. today with the women’s 5K race followed by the men’s 8K.