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Thursday, February 02, 2023
<p>UF's Mark Parrish races in the final leg of the men's distance medley relay during the Florida Relays on May 4, 2015, at the Percy Beard Track in Gainesville.</p>

UF's Mark Parrish races in the final leg of the men's distance medley relay during the Florida Relays on May 4, 2015, at the Percy Beard Track in Gainesville.

Mike Holloway is no stranger to success when it comes to the NCAA Outdoor Championships.

The Florida track and field coach — recently named the Southeastern Conference Outdoor Men’s Coach of the Year — won back-to-back men’s titles in 2012-2013, and has finished in the top-two four times in the last five national outdoor meets.

Last year, despite putting up the most NCAA outdoor points during Holloway’s tenure, the men’s team finished second to an Oregon squad that took the national crown.

Now, with the , the Gators and Ducks are back in Eugene, Oregon, ready to fight for another outdoor championship to put in their respective trophy cases.

The two schools, separated by almost 3,000 miles, have a recent history of neck-and-neck competition at men’s national meets.

In the 2014 outdoor national meet, the Oregon men scored 88 points to Florida’s 70, with the difference coming in the 5000-meter run. The Ducks etched a 2-3-4 finish in the event, capturing the 18 points that separated the two institutions while doing so.

In the NCAA Indoor Championships earlier this year, the Oregon and Florida men were tied at 50 points each going into the final two events — the 3000-meter run and the 4x400 relay. The Ducks finished 1-2-3 in the 3000, earning 24 points to clinch a national title.

Holloway and the Gators will see much more of Oregon head coach Robert Johnson’s men’s squad during this week’s collegiate season finale. The Oregon men were able to secure a dominating 23 entries, compared to 13 for Florida.

The Ducks also accumulated the most entries in the women’s field with 22.

Despite Florida’s struggles against the west coast powerhouse, Holloway has been waiting for this moment since last year’s loss in Eugene.

“We just got beat by a phenomenal Oregon team,” Holloway said in a release following the 2014 national outdoor meet, “and we’ll be back next year.”

On the men’s side, the No. 1 Gators will be lead by jumper Marquis Dendy, competing in his final collegiate event of his historic career. Dendy, named the USTFCCCA South Region Men’s Field Athlete of the Year on Monday, will look to complete a national and conference sweep of both the triple and long jump.

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Florida’ eight remaining men’s individual athletes are sprinters Dedric Dukes (100-meter dash) and Najee Glass (400-meter dash), hurdlers Eric Futch (400-meter hurdle) and Yanick Hart (110-meter hurdle), the 800-meter duo of Andres Arroyo and Ryan Schnulle, UF steeplechase record holder Mark Parrish and Croatian shot-putter Stipe Zunic.

The No. 6 Florida women will be represented by 11 athletes in Eugene, highlighted by five athletes who rank in the top-10 in their respective outdoor events, including junior sprinter Kyra Jefferson. Jefferson broke the UF record and set the eighth-best mark in NCAA history in the 200-meter sprint at the NCAA East Preliminaries in Jacksonville.

Junior mid-distance runner Claudia Francis will make her first competitive appearance in Eugene since transferring from the host school to UF before this season. Running in the 800, Francis holds the 12th-best time in the event in the nation.

The combination of Florida’s status as the top-ranked men’s team and the overwhelming amount of Oregon athletes competing on its home turf, especially its seven distance runners, would cause one to think that Holloway feels worried about the Ducks, but the 13th-year head coach holds a very simple mindset when it comes to facing tough competition.

“I’m the head of the University of Florida and I try to take care of the Gators,” Holloway said on Jan. 28. “That’s always been my focus."

Follow Kyle Brutman on Twitter @KBrut13.

UF's Mark Parrish races in the final leg of the men's distance medley relay during the Florida Relays on May 4, 2015, at the Percy Beard Track in Gainesville.

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