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Saturday, December 09, 2023

For the past two races of Florida’s season, everything seemed to go right.

The No. 29 UF women’s team was spending its weeks repeating as Southeastern Conference champions, returning an All-American back to form and racking up bids to take a shot at the national title.

But at the NCAA Cross Country National Championship on Monday, it all fell apart.

The Gators failed to capitalize on their momentum heading into the race and were swallowed by a field of 31 teams that dropped UF to a season-low 29th-place finish in the 6K.

 “Obviously, today we’re disappointed with what happened but we’re going to use it for motivation and gear up for track,” assistant coach Todd Morgan said.

Florida came into the race with high expectations after returning three upperclassmen from last year’s school-record fifth-place team.

Senior Charlotte Browning’s 77th-place finish and 21:22.1 run was the best result for Florida on the day but was 56 seconds slower and 56 places lower in the standings that her result from last year in Terre Haute, Ind.

Browning’s fellow All-American from 2009, junior Rebecca Lowe, finished 21 seconds later after being pushed back to 114th place and was followed 10 seconds later by freshman Cory McGee in 129th.

The race started with eight minutes of steady tempo and pacing due to windy conditions that Morgan said made his team reluctant.

“They end up grouping up a little more like that when it’s that windy because no one really wants to break it,” Morgan said.

Soon after the 12-minute mark, Villanova’s Sheila Reid finally made a kick to separate the main field and coasted to her first individual title behind a 20:06.9 run. The Wildcats also repeated as national champions.

Upon the finish line over a minute later, the Gators were collapsing in exhaustion.

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“They were going for the wall this meet,” Morgan said.

In the men’s 10K, Florida’s luck continued to run short as junior Dumisane Hlaselo suffered a sprained ankle after a strong first 7K in the top half of the field. Hlaselo was not able to recover from the late injury, however, and tumbled to 171st place by the time he crossed the finish line.

The junior from South Africa was the first men’s runner to compete at nationals for the Gators since 2008.

Another individual competitor, Sam Chelanga of Liberty University, won his second straight national title. And Oklahoma State was named national champions for the second time in as many seasons.

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