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Friday, September 29, 2023

It took a push from the bottom to get the Gators to the top.

The fastest runners are arguably the most vital for success, but without a productive back-half of the lineup, the team will suffer. That was the case for Florida’s men until this year.

Strong performances by senior Josh Izewski and freshman Eduardo Garcia as the Gators' Nos. 4 and 5 runners, respectively, boosted the squad into its first NCAA Championship appearance since 2006.

Sophomores Mark Parrish and Matt Mizereck, along with freshman Jimmy Clark, have been Florida’s frontrunners the entire season. The top three cannot do it all for a team though, best evidenced in this year’s South Regional.

The Gators automatically qualified for the national championship with a second-place finish Saturday that was highlighted by a gigantic leap forward by both Izewski and Garcia. A 13th-place finish and a career-best time by No. 4 runner Izewski erased the notion that Florida lacked competitive bottom-two scorers. But it was a 31st-place finish by Garcia that caught Morgan’s eye.

“It was huge day for Eduardo Garcia – he’s come in and worked really hard, and it was good to see him come in fifth to close out the scoring for us,” Morgan said.

Saturday was the first race Garcia cracked the Gators' top five all season, and it came at a crucial time for his team.

The importance of the last two scoring runners can be seen by looking at the team scoring. In the SEC Championship, Florida edged out Georgia by only two points because the four and five runners for the Gators fell behind. However, in the South Regional, the spread between Florida and Georgia was a much more comfortable 26 points due to stellar finishes by all five scorers.

Both Izewski and Garcia know their roles. Although the attention won’t be directed at them, they know their importance to the team.

“If I’m a scorer on the team, then it’s crucial that I be in front of as many people as I can,” Garcia said. “Everyone’s role is important to the team’s success.”

As a freshman, it may be easier to accept the role of a bottom-two runner, but Izewski is entering the last race of his career behind two sophomores and a freshman. However, Garcia said Izewski has no problem leading from the back of the pack.

“(Izewski) enjoys his role,” Garcia said. “He’s a veteran on the team. He’s been through the big meets and knows what to expect.”

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