With seven first timers in the event, the Florida men’s and women’s cross country teams will be viewed as an underdog today in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, at the 2014 SEC Championships.
For the Gators, motivation is something the team will not need. They have one goal: to succeed and win this meet.
Coming off a poor showing at their last meet in Wisconsin, the men and women have changed their training regimen in preparation for this event.
"We’ve certainly backed them off (the training)," coach Paul Spangler said.
"Heading into Wisconsin we had some great workouts, but we had a little bit of overtraining. Some of the athletes went in really, really fatigued and we had a few athletes that were sick. We’ve backed them off, so the volume of the workouts has really decreased. We recognize that the training and sickness really affected us at Wisconsin. They’ll go into SEC’s pretty fresh."
Only one men’s team will head into the Championships ranked, perennial favorite Arkansas.
The Razorbacks round out the bottom half of the current NCAA rankings with the 23rd spot in the country.
On the women’s side Arkansas comes in as the 5th ranked team in the country followed by Vanderbilt who is No. 14 in the nation.
This will be the first time all season that the Gators will have to face off against the Razorbacks.
"It’s a good conference," Spangler said. "You look at the men’s side and the women’s side Arkansas is favored to win both. You find out on race day that anything can happen. As long as we go in there and compete and give 100 percent that’s all we can do and I think anything is possible."
With NCAA Regionals looming, the Gators know that both their teams are going to need standout performances this weekend if there is any lasting shot at saving their NCAA championship dreams.
For Florida, rebounding will be the toughest part of this week’s race. The confidence level will be questionable for both the men and women’s sides after struggling in their last outing.
"We took a hit after Wisconsin," Spangler said. "Certainly coming out of that meet we didn’t have the performance that we wanted to. I told the team before, you find out a lot about a person’s character when they get knocked down, they stay down and get right back up. That’s something that we need to do, refocus, get back up and compete with 100 percent on Friday."
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The Florida women's cross country team accepts its first-place trophy at the 2014 Mountain Dew Invitational