As Florida’s men’s and women’s track and field teams prepare for the Southeastern Conference Indoor Championship — the final chance for athletes to qualify for the national meet — the last thing on the team’s mind is pressure.
Despite facing four top-10 teams on both the men’s and women’s side in this season’s indoor conference championship, coach Mike Holloway refuses to let pressure become a factor in his athletes’ performances.
"We talk about a lot of things," Holloway said, "but I never use the word pressure."
The Columbus, Ohio, native said that the only time that pressure should have an effect on athletes is when they are not ready to do something that they have been preparing for.
Holloway likes to focus on the heart and on relaxation when it comes to the big meets.
"What we talk a lot about is pride and passion," Holloway said.
"The big performances happen when you just relax."
Holloway — who was recently voted into Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches Hall of Fame — noted that this meet brings out the best of the Florida Gators.
"If you look at our history, we show up at this meet," Holloway said.
History shows that since 2010, both the men’s and the women’s teams have placed in the top-two in the SEC meet every year except for the 2011 and 2013 women’s team.
Despite the 2011 and 2013 performances, the women’s team has won the SEC title in all of its other conference showings in that time frame — capturing championships in 2010, 2012 and 2014.
The men’s team has finished in second place in every year during the five-year span except for 2011, where 10 SEC individual titles propelled it to a conference championship.
History also shows that the Gators, as individuals, take huge strides during the SEC championship meet.
At last year’s meet, junior sprinter Dedric Dukes entered College Station, Texas — the sight of the 2014 SEC meet — on the bubble for qualifying in the 200-meter sprint.
But a strong performance gave him the country’s top time going into the NCAA Indoor Championships.
In the same event, junior sprinter Geno Hall launched himself behind Dukes for the runner-up spot in the 200, as his performance resulted in a 20.58-second mark — one-tenth of a second off from his previous season high of 20.68.
The duo went on to clinch top-five finishes in the 200 event at the national meet, setting then-personal records in the process.
Although he may not give the word pressure a thought, Holloway knows that this meet will be no cakewalk for his squad.
He understands what is at stake and acknowledged the fact that this meet is anyone’s for the taking.
"Every school has at least one or two or three athletes that are coming in here and trying to win something," Holloway said.
"We just have to remember who we are. As long as we go there, we take care of Florida, we’ll be fine."
Follow Kyle Brutman on Twitter @KBrut13
Dedric Dukes races in the 400-meter dash at the Tom Jones Memorial on April 19 at the Percy Beard Track. Dukes set personal-best marks in every event he competed in during the 2014 season and help break the school's 4x400-meter relay record.