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Saturday, June 15, 2024

After an offseason filled with both anticipated and unexpected change, coach Todd Morgan knew he needed to challenge his runners as soon as they hit campus.

For the first time in six years, the Gators have shaken up their schedule and will step out on the road for their first two meets of the year, starting with the Western Carolina Invitational today in Cullowhee, N.C.

Both squads will run a short, tune-up style race, featuring a two-mile run at 6:30 p.m. for the women, followed immediately by a men’s 5k race.  Along with host Western Carolina, three other unranked teams — UNC-Asheville, North Greenville and Warren Wilson — will be competing against Florida.

“Coach (Mike) Holloway and I talked about running a little earlier to generate more focus and just preparation over the summer months, knowing that alright, you report back and pretty quickly you’re going to be lining up and putting a uniform on,” Morgan said.

With last year’s top finisher Charlotte Browning out of eligibility, the No. 22 women’s team looks to lean heavily on resurgent senior Genevieve LaCaze and sophomore Cory McGee for leadership in the early meets. 

The returning duo is coming off a stellar track and field season in which LaCaze set the school record for the women’s steeplechase and McGee was honored as the 2011 Southeastern Conference Women’s Indoor Freshman Runner of the Year.

“We’re actually really lucky for Cory and I to have that kind of [track season] to get us rolling for fall,” LaCaze said. “We didn’t get to have Charlotte in the track season last year, so it was a little bit of a transition for us.”

The No. 26 men’s team is also looking to regroup after former UF runner Dumisane Hlaselo was kicked off the team for allegedly sexually assaulting a woman in June. Last season, the South African native was the only men’s runner to qualify for the NCAA Championship.

With the loss of their dominant runner, senior Josh Izewski said the squad’s chemistry and expectations have changed to more of a team-first approach.

“With everyone working together like that, like not one person who’s trying to be it, you know it’s going to be better for when we’re out there and actually on the course and we’re not worrying about ‘Oh, who’s going to beat who?” Izewski said.

Contact John Boothe at jboothe@alligator.org.

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