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Thursday, November 30, 2023

UF cross country coach Todd Morgan can’t explain what happened to his program at Saturday’s Pre-National Invitational.

There’s no explanation for why both the UF men’s and women’s teams failed to place more than one runner in the top-15.

There’s no explanation for how 11 unranked squads were able to finish in front of the No. 27 Gators women’s team.

And there’s no way to explain how senior Charlotte Browning and junior Genevieve LaCaze went from top-25 finishes last year in Terre Haute, Ind., to dropping out of the top-40 altogether.

But Morgan will shoulder the blame, nonetheless.

“I just have got to do a better job coaching,” he said. “And look over how things have been going and try to figure out why we had this today. It’s my responsibility as the coach to have the guys better prepared than that.”

During the week, Morgan said he wanted both teams to finish in the top-six and to continue the momentum from Browning and men’s runner Dumisane Hlaselo’s first- and seventh-place showings at the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational on Oct. 2.

But amid the rolling hills and looping turns of Indiana State’s LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course, the women’s team and Browning fell below expectations with a 21:14.1 run and 44th-place individual finish in the 6K, which was a best for the 19th-place Gators. The women’s team finished second at last year’s invitational.

While the women struggled through late morning, Hlaselo provided the lone bright spot for the No. 30 men’s team with his 23:59.2 run in the 8K and a 15th-place result. But his high finish was almost negated by the rest of his teammates, who finished no higher than 63rd, dropping the Gators to ninth place overall.

“It was a bit hard for the guys, even for myself,” Hlaselo said. “I think we ran fine and it’s not that bad, what we did, compared to last year.”

The Gators’ top-10 finish did improve on a 15th-place effort from 2009’s Pre-Nationals, but without Hlaselo’s run, the team would’ve slid to 16th. Morgan said the focus over the next two weeks before the Southeastern Conference Championships in Columbia, S.C., will be to restore his team’s confidence and to assure them that good things are ahead of them.

The men’s team finished higher than two SEC opponents – 25th place Georgia and 28th place Mississippi – in their race, while the women’s team fell two spots short of matching Georgia’s team run.

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“We’re a better team than we showed today, but that’s just talk,” Morgan said. “We have to figure out why what happened today and try to fix it.”

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