If anyone is excited for Florida’s first and only home meet of the season, it’s freshman Maria Larsen.
"It’s gonna be great hearing ‘Go Gators’ all the time," Larsen said.
"I heard it a few times in North Carolina so it’s gonna be awesome to hear it all the time."
She’ll likely hear the chant repeatedly on Saturday as the UF men’s and women’s cross country teams will host the Mountain Dew Invitational.
The competition will draw fans of the sport from all over Florida, many of whom will likely be cheering for the home team.
Larsen, who’s in her first season with Florida after making the trek to Gainesville all the way from Denmark, has already established herself as an elite runner on the team.
The Danish indoor 3,000 meter record holder took first on the team and second overall in the 5,000 meter race two weekends ago at the Covered Bridge Open hosted by Appalachian State, and she’s not expecting any less this weekend.
"I’m usually ready mentally," Larsen said, "so if my legs are ready, I think I can perform on Saturday."
And while her own success is clearly important, she’s even more concerned with seeing her team succeed.
"I’m looking forward to competing as a team again," she said. "Usually back home I would just run for my own sake, so that’s kinda new to me and I really like being part of a team."
Jack Guyton, who was among the best freshmen on the men’s team at Covered Bridge, feels that beyond excitement, the Gators have a better chance for success on their home course.
"Running on the golf course — it’s mushy, there’s lots of hills and the terrain is just unique to many courses," he said, "so it’ll give us kinda a better advantage just knowing the course better than other teams and just being aware of all of the different types of terrain there is."
While running at home can be invigorating for any team, cross country head coach Paul Spangler knows this meet won’t be his team’s best, and he’s just fine with that.
Spangler’s women’s team, led by junior Taylor Tubbs, is using these meets to gauge the team’s performance before Southeastern Conference meets arrive.
"We’re not very sharp right now, but we don’t wanna be sharp right now," he said.
"We wanna be sharp come Notre Dame, come pre-nats, come SECs, come the important races."
In the grand scheme of a cross country season, an early meet like this doesn’t mean much toward the team’s success down the road. That being said, Larsen is aware that this competition still has meaning.
"If we do well on Saturday, it’s a way of telling that we’re in good shape," she said.
Win or lose, competitions on home turf — with fans, friends and activities — are always exciting, and even though Spangler is more concerned about future competitions, he acknowledges that this meet has a nice vibe to it for the team.
"It’s exciting," he said.
"This is probably one of their favorite meets of the year because they get a chance to compete in front of their friends, in front of their old teammates that are still in high school, in front of high school coaches and their family."
Follow Ethan Bauer on Twitter @ebaueri
Taylor Tubbs races in the Southeastern Conference Championships on Nov. 1, 2013, on the Mark Bostick Golf Course.