Arkansas had the UF women’s cross country team beat with 400 meters to go.
After becoming disorganized following the first mile of the Southeastern Conference Cross Country Championships 6K race, the Gators were in trouble.
“We saw Arkansas ahead of us and we knew that we had to get ahead of them to win,” senior Charlotte Browning said.
Along the final stretch of Hilton Field at Columbia, S.C., though, Browning and four other Florida runners made critical passes on Arkansas runners to claim a one-point victory and their second consecutive SEC championship Monday.
“Having it so close makes it even more exciting,” Browning said.
The Gators’ 61-60 victory against the Razorbacks was sealed by Browning’s 21:11.13 run and third-place finish, as well as senior Rebecca Lowe’s sixth-place finish four seconds later in her first cross country race of the season.
Both runners worked off each other’s pace to stay in the front after the split at the first mile, which caused most of the Gators to string out among the field of 12 teams.
For their efforts, Browning and Lowe were named first-team All-SEC selections, while junior Genevieve LaCaze made the All-SEC second team after her 21:16.10 run and eighth-place finish.
The close race wasn’t Browning’s first of the season as she also had to rally on Oct. 2 at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational to hold a one-second victory.
“I don’t think anybody could’ve predicted the kind of things that have gone on during the fall,” UF cross country coach Todd Morgan said. “They have just really responded tremendously today with their backs against the wall.”
The women’s race was won individually by Georgia’s Kristie Krueger, who outpaced Browning by 30 seconds with her 20:41.25 mark.
The No. 26 men’s team also struggled early against No. 10 Arkansas in the 8K men’s race. Unlike the women, the men could not bring themselves back into the race as the Razorbacks cruised to a 35-point victory against the third-place Gators.
First-year runner and first-team All-SEC selection Dumisane Hlaselo turned in a fifth-place performance and finished first for Florida for the third time this season after his 24:08.32 time.
Alabama came in second as a team, while Barnabus Kirui of Ole Miss won the third individual SEC Championship of his career with a 23:52.07 run.
“[The UF men’s team} pushed Alabama to the limit,” Morgan said. “They ran solidly. Unfortunately, a couple of guys had off days but then a couple of guys stepped up.”