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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Florida’s cross country teams kept two streaks alive Saturday morning at the NCAA South Region Championships: one the program will celebrate on the bus ride home from Hoover, Ala., and one to think about until next year.

For the fifth-consecutive season, the UF women’s team received an automatic bid to the NCAA Championship on Nov. 22.

The Gators men’s team, meanwhile, came up 21 points shy of second-place FSU and another automatic bid to match their teammates. The men’s team hasn’t made it to the national championship race since 2005.

The women’s second-place finish as a team came behind three of its top runners finishing the day’s 6K race with their best times of the season. Genevieve LaCaze paced the Gators out front with a fourth-place finish and a 20:06.10 run, which shattered the junior’s previous career-best effort by 48.4 seconds.

Finishing one spot behind her was senior Charlotte Browning with a 20:11.17 run that was 1.32 seconds faster than her career best.

“Charlotte, definitely, and Gen are really getting back to where they need to be,” coach Todd Morgan said. “[LaCaze] wants to be a great runner, so she’s starting to really come into form.”

Last year’s South Region champion, Rebecca Lowe, narrowly missed a top-10 finish in her second race back from a hamstring injury dating back to last summer. The senior finished 12th with a season-best run of 20:26.71, a 48-second improvement from her SEC Championship effort.

“I feel great about how things are going,” Morgan said. “I feel like we ran better than we did two weeks ago at the SEC Championship. So we’ll fine-tune a couple of things and just carry over this momentum to the NCAA meet.”

Despite strong performances from the Gators’ top runners, FSU turned in an even more impressive display by placing five Seminoles runners in the women’s top-10. The grouping helped Florida State run away with first place in the South Region Championship by 43 points.

“They’re a good team,” Morgan said. “They’re strong together and are running really well right now. Our girls ran really strong, too, though.”

A group of Seminoles runners in the men’s race also proved to be fatal to the Gators chances at a higher finish. After Florida’s Dumisane Hlaselo and James Uthmeier crossed the finish line in fourth and 12th place, the Gators were still within striking distance of a second-place finish and an automatic berth to nationals.

But the next three Gator runners came farther down the line in 19th, 21th and 24rd place, which proved to be too much of a spread compared to FSU’s sweep of the 15th through 17th spots. Those points were pivotal in the final tally, giving the Seminole’s a 21-point advantage over Florida.

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The Gators’ 76 point result was especially disappointing for Morgan considering his team almost cut its point total in half from last year and still wasn’t able to advance.

“I’m proud of the way those guys ran,” Morgan said. “We came in gunning for a top-two finish, but they didn’t leave anything out there on the course. So we’re just waiting to see if someone can help us out for the national meet.”

Unfortunately for the Gators, that help never came.

Florida was passed over during the NCAA’s at-large-team selection process on Sunday evening in favor of 13 others squads that were given a second chance at nationals. But Hlaselo’s performance punched a ticket for the junior to Terre Haute, Ind., something Morgan predicted after the meet.

The South African native was one of the 38 runners selected to race individually for the national championship meet. Hlaselo has been Florida’s top runner in each race he’s competed in this season and was named a first-team All-SEC selection two weeks ago.

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