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Tuesday, November 28, 2023
<p>Jimmy Clark (1734) runs at the Mountain Dew Invitational on Sept. 14 in Gainesville.</p>

Jimmy Clark (1734) runs at the Mountain Dew Invitational on Sept. 14 in Gainesville.

Underclassmen runners played a big part in Florida’s women’s cross country team last season, and it appears this year that very well may be the case again.

"We’ve added, I feel like, a very talented recruiting class," coach Paul Spangler said.

"I’m excited to see the athletes (and to) see the team progress this year."

With last years top three runners in Becky Greene, Taylor Tubbs and Lauren Brasure all returning, the team will be able to rely on experience at the top.

However, for the rest of the starting seven, things are fairly unclear.

Perhaps the most likely freshmen to crack the Gators’ starting rotation are a trio of international students, starting with Maria Larsen of Denmark.

Larsen comes to UF as the Danish national record holder in the indoor 3000 meters with a time of 9:19.56 and she finished in 30th place at the junior World Cross Country Championship in March.

"She comes in with a very good resume and with some very good international experience," Spangler said, "and certainly she’s gonna come in and contribute."

In addition to Larsen, Florida also stands to benefit from the abilities of fellow freshmen Caitlin McQuilkin-Bell and Elisabeth Bergh.

McQuilkin-Bell hails from Tamborine, Australia, and was the runner-up in both the 1500 meters and the 3000 meter steeplechase at the 2015 Australian junior championships.

Bergh, a native of Haugesund, Norway, qualified for the junior track and field world championships.

"We expect her to come in and make a contribution," Spangler said of Bergh.

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Add Greene, who is from New Zealand, to the mix and the team has an international flair heading into the season.

On the men’s side, the team will benefit from faces both new and old — and in two cases, both old and new at the same time.

After taking a redshirt year in 2014, redshirt seniors Jimmy Clark and Eddie Garcia rejoin the team after earning USTFCCCA All-South Region accolades in 2013.

As far as the duo being where they need to be to contribute this season, Spangler thinks that they’re right on track.

"They’ve looked good in practice, they’re extremely hard workers, (and) they’re very, very focused," he said.

"They’re about where they should be right now."

As for the new crop of freshmen, it starts with Nick Diaz.

The Miami native was a two-time class 4A state champion while competing for Miami Sunset high school and was named the 2013-14 Gatorade Florida Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year.

In addition to Diaz, Connor Vaughan, Jack Guyton and Seamus Love are some names to keep an eye on as far as freshmen go.

Last year was a down year for both teams, but the influx of young talent along with the veterans at the top has this year’s squads feeling optimistic about competing in the Southeastern Conference.

Spangler said competing in the SEC is an expectation every year.

"Year in and year out, our goal is to contend for an SEC title," Spangler said.

"I expect both teams to go in with that goal and work during the season towards that accomplishment."

Follow Ethan Bauer on Twitter @ebaueri

Jimmy Clark (1734) runs at the Mountain Dew Invitational on Sept. 14 in Gainesville.

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