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Monday, June 17, 2024

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 and women’s teams failed to place more than one runner in the top-15.

There’s no explanation for how 11 unranked squads finished 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. He also wanted Browning and men's runner Dumisane Hlaselo to ride their momentum from the Wisconsin adidas Invitational on Oct. 2, when the the two finished races in first and seventh place, respectively. 

But amid the rolling hills and looping turns of Indiana State’s LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course, Browning failed to match expectations with a 21:14.1 run that placed her 44th in the 6K.

Her performance was still the best for the women's team, which finished in 19th place. The Gators finished in second at last year's invitational.

The 16-team event was divided, with half the team's competing with Florida in the White Race and the other half running in the Blue Race.

Lucy Van Dalen of No. 12 Stony Brook won the White Race with a 20:08.1 run. Georgetown won that group with 100 points, while Florida finished with 512 points.

While the women struggled in the late morning, Hlaselo provided the lone bright spot for the No. 30 men’s team, running a 15th-place 23:59.2 in the 8K in the men's Blue Race. But his high finish was almost negated by the rest of his team, none of whom finished higher than 63rd, dropping the Gators to ninth place overall.

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

Led by Chris Derrick’s 23:16.9 run, no. 1 Stanford swept the top three places of the men’s Blue Race  The Cardinal men’s team also took home the overall win with 43 points. The Gators best five runners ended the afternoon with 350 points.

The Gators' top-10 finish was better than their 15th-place result in last season's Pre-Nationals. But without Hlaselo’s run, the team would have slid to 16th Saturday.

With two weeks left until the Southeastern Conference Championships in Columbia, S.C., Morgan said his focus will be dedicated to restoring his team's confidence.

The men’s squad finished higher than two SEC opponents, Georgia (25th) and Ole Miss (28th).

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

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