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Monday, June 17, 2024

With its long, grueling runs, cross country is not typically known as a sport that exudes team chemistry. But with a regular morning routine in place, UF's women's squad is trying to replace individualism with a group mentality.

After morning runs, the Gators will usually bond over a team breakfast, something they say is unusual to any other sport, and they like it that way.  Sophomore Cory McGee says because there are fewer people – only 15 female runners – they are more “close-knit” even when not in practice. To her, it is this unique chance to connect off the course that makes them better runners on the course.

“You count on each other in the race, and you are looking for one another in the Orange and Blue uniforms for encouragement” said McGee, who added this positive environment pushes each of them through a difficult cross country schedule.

Waking up before most other students to go running pays a toll on the Gators’ psyche throughout the season.

“I wake up in the morning and have those thoughts like ‘Why do I do this? This isn’t fun!’” said junior Mandy Perkins. “But once I get to the locker room and see my team, I know why I do it.”

This mentality of team unity is what brings these runners so much success, evidenced by back-to-back Southeastern Conference championships. And with the lone senior Genevieve LaCaze saying “this team has the best team dynamic in all my four years,” these women, fueled by team chemistry, are pushing for a threepeat.

Florida begins its quest for another conference championship and another NCAA bid with its first true test of the season on Saturday at 8:30 a.m. when the Gators compete in the 23rd Annual Mountain Dew Invitational at the Mark Bostick Golf Course, Florida’s only home meet of the year.

Led by coach Todd Morgan, two-time defending SEC Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year, and a battery of both young and veteran runners, the Gators are poised to literally hit the ground running on Saturday.

The Gators look to Morgan’s calm demeanor and each others’ encouraging support to ease any tensions before the race. This combination, they say, will only lead to more success in the meets, and in the locker room as well.

“It’s a privilege to be on this team,” said LaCaze, Florida’s most experienced runner. “I want to run with them. I encourage them, they encourage me.”

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