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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

The Gators left Maryville, Tenn., with pride, contentment and hope.

The only thing they were missing was a Southeastern Conference Championship trophy.

Florida’s men were runners-up to Arkansas on Monday. This year’s second-place finish by the men was their best performance since 2007, when they also fell short of the Razorbacks.

After a predicted third-place finish at the beginning of the season, the Gators said they were pleased with nearly capturing their first conference championship in 24 years.

While the men exceeded preseason expectations, the women were dethroned as SEC champions. Vanderbilt and Arkansas pushed the Gators into settling for bronze.

A third-place finish rather than a third consecutive championship dismayed no one as much as senior Genevieve LaCaze.

“Obviously, we are a little disappointed with the team finish,” LaCaze said. “I know on another day we are better than that, but I also know every girl went out there and worked as hard as they could today.”

Three Florida women finished in the top 10, including a third-overall finish by LaCaze. Unfortunately for the women, the top five runners accumulate points, and UF’s Nos. 4 and 5 runners could not boost their team to the top as they finished 20th and 24th, respectively.

In nearly an exact same situation, the men placed their top three runners in the top 10 while the other two runners finished 25th and 27th, respectively. However, unlike the women, that result garnered a second-overall finish and a well-pleased group of men.

“It was good all the way around,” coach Todd Morgan said. “We just tried to put the pressure on and see if we could make something happen. We gave it our best shot today.”

Sophomore Mark Parrish, who finished third overall, even went as far to say the Gators performance was amazing.

Officially marking the beginning of the championship cross country season, the SEC meet was a good rebound from the disappointing results in Wisconsin two weeks ago. The Gators believe their finishes at their conference meet will translate into success nationally as they head into the NCAA South Regional on Nov. 12.

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“It’s a finish we deserve because we worked really hard,” Parrish said. “We’re really fit and we are looking forward to big things.”

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