In 2013, the Florida men’s and women’s cross country teams entered the NCAA Regional championship with an NCAA Finals berth tucked away in their back pocket.
The men automatically advanced out of the south region with a second-place finish at the event. In addition, Florida was able to produce the men’s regional champion, Mark Parrish.
Parrish set a personal record of 29:44.24 to claim the individual title in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
On the women’s side, the Gators cracked the top five with a fourth place finish. While the women’s team did not advance, top runners Cory McGee and Agata Strausa earned at-large individual bids with Strausa finishing as an All-American.
Both of these squads will be led by fresh faces at Friday’s meet. For the men, only two of the seven runners competing ran at last year’s regional event. Sophomores Carlos Miranda and Mac Reynolds will return to NCAA’s where they both set personal 10K bests. The rest of the team will enter the South Regional with limited postseason experience.
All is not lost for Florida as today’s meet will be at a course that even the younger runners have seen.
Tallahassee’s Apalachee Regional Park is a track that could give the team an advantage says head coach Paul Spangler.
"Most of our athletes are from Florida and have had an opportunity to compete at the state championships in high school which were held at that course. Those that were here two years ago, the NCAA regionals were held there as well. So it is a course that is familiar with a lot of our athletes."
All-SEC freshman Thomas Howell won his high school state title at the course as well.
Thomas has been a stalwart for the men’s squad, finishing as one of the top Gators in almost every meet this year. Thomas knows it’s going to take an impressive performance in order to advance into the final round of postseason play.
"If we’re going to do that we are going to need a breakthrough race. I believe we have the potential to do it, we have a lot of unproven potential on our team and we have every tool and opportunity to do that in the coming week."
For the women, two true freshmen and one redshirt freshman will make an appearance for the team on Friday. The women will be seeking their fourth Regional championship and their first since 2009.
Sophomore Taylor Tubbs has shown success as of late, leading the way for her squad at the 2014 SEC Championship. UF will need a big meet from Tubbs to have any chance of making it out of the region.
Last time the event was held in Tallahassee, Florida State won both the men’s and women’s title.
That was two years ago, but not much has changed.
The Seminoles will enter the meet as one of the competition’s favorites to win at home. Two of Florida’s biggest rivals ran away with last year’s Regional competition, as Georgia won the men’s side and the FSU women also claimed victory in Tuscaloosa.
Florida will have to take both teams down in route to a hopeful top-two finish.
Without that, the Florida cross country teams season will come to a close 150 miles away from home in Tallahassee, Florida.
Follow Ben Murphy on Twitter @B_Murph
Mac Reynolds races during the 2014 Mountain Dew Invitational on UF's Mark Bostick Golf Course.