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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

After a strong performance two weeks ago at the Western Carolina Invitational, Florida looks to carry its momentum back home to Gainesville for the 2013 Mountain Dew Invitational.

Although the Gators had the two top individual performers in Cullowhee, N.C., the low times were not the key takeaway from the meet, according to coach Paul Spangler.

“The biggest positive I took away from that race were our fifth runners,” Spangler said. “Something that’s going to be key for us as we progress later in the season is how close our fifth runner is to our fourth runner.”

For the men, the fifth runner was SEC Men’s Freshman of the Week Carlos Miranda.

Miranda finished about 9 seconds behind Florida’s fourth runner, junior John-Logan Hines.

“Hats off to him (for winning SEC Men’s Freshman of the Week) in his first collegiate race,” Spangler said.

Senior Stephanie Strasser was the women’s fifth runner at Western Carolina. Her time of 11:11.28 would have won last year’s WCU Invitational, which then-Florida-freshman Julie Macedo won with a time of 11:14.40.

“On the women’s side, I’m extremely pleased with where we’re at right now,” Spangler said.

“We have to continue to train, get better and get ready for the big meets that come up later in the season.”

Leading the pack for Florida at the WCU Invitational were Mark Parrish and Southeastern Conference Women’s Runner of the Week redshirt senior Agata Strausa.

Parrish finished the 5K race with a time of 14:50.06.

Strausa completed a two-mile race in 10:52.29.

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Each time was fast enough to secure individual victories.

The men may also have an emerging force in junior Eddie Garcia.

At the WCU Invitational, Garcia finished fourth with a time of 15:14.67, improving his time from a year ago by about 35 seconds.

“Eddie really stuck out in that race,” Spangler said.

“I thought he had a breakthrough performance. He’s looked really good at practice this year. He had a great summer training and certainly things are paying off for him.

“As you get older as a distance runner, you see a lot more consistency with their performances. Eddie’s an extremely hard worker. I think he had a better summer training this summer than he’s had in the past. He’s progressing very well and he’s going to have a great year.”

The men’s team looks to be one of the stronger units the Gators have had in years.

The last time Florida’s men won a conference title was in 1987.

In recent years, the men have played second fiddle to the women, who have won an SEC title three of the last four seasons.

This year, the men hope to buck the trend. Key figures involved in catapulting the men to success are Parrish, Hines and junior Jimmy Clark.

“Since (the WCU Invitational), JL Hines has looked really good in practice,” Spangler said. “Mark Parrish, Jimmy Clark ... I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen in practice.”

Saturday’s event will give Florida the opportunity to have a test run for the SEC Champuionships, which will be held at the Mark Bostwick Golf Course on Nov. 1.

“With it being a preview for the SEC championships, the SEC will be well represented with LSU, South Carolina, Auburn and Tennessee also attending,” Spangler said.

The Mountain Dew Invitational will also feature the typical races held at SECs and the much heralded Wisconsin adidas Invitational — a 6K for the women and an 8K for the men.

“With the men’s race, we’re going 8K as normal,” Spangler said.

“For the women’s race, we’re going to break from what we’ve done in the past, which is running 5K, and run a 6K. 6K is what we’re going to race at Wisconsin and what we’re going to race at the SEC championships, so it’ll be a great opportunity for our younger athletes to have that experience of a 6K before we get into the championship meets later this season.”

Follow Gordon Streisand on Twitter @GordonStreisand.

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