Heading into today’s national championship race, Genevieve LaCaze knows the Gators will have to lean on more than a strong performance from their top-three runners to capture their first NCAA title.
For the last two critical meets of the season, No. 29 Florida has relied on high freshmen finishes to fill out its last two scoring spots. And in Terre Haute, Ind., this afternoon that trend seems unlikely to change.
Behind the resurgent trifecta of LaCaze, Charlotte Browning and Rebecca Lowe, the Gators captured a Southeastern Conference crown and a second-place finish in the South Regionals. But right on the upperclassmen’s heels in each race, the freshmen duo of Cory McGee and Stephanie Strasser secured top-35 results and valuable points for the team.
“I think that going into it we know that we have a lot of support around us, especially those girls on the end of our scoring group,” LaCaze said. “There are so many of them surrounding that fifth spot that they are a little bit nervous but confident as well.”
In a race that features 412 competitors crammed onto a 6K course, the environment can be unwelcoming for runners experiencing a national meet for the first time.
“It is tough for these girls being freshmen because they have to step up and fill in that fourth or fifth spot,” LaCaze said. “But no one has consistently been labeled the fifth runner, and I think that they can all work for that spot together.”
The Gators have also been working to get Lowe, a redshirt junior, back into fitness for just her third race of the season, assistant coach Todd Morgan said. Since returning from a hamstring injury, Lowe has yet to reach her All-American form from a year ago despite two straight top-three team finishes.
In the men’s 10K race, junior Dumisane Hlaselo will be running as an individual competitor after Florida failed to qualify for nationals as a team. Hlaselo won an at-large bid after finishing in the top-five in both the SEC Championship and South Regional races.