Finishing in second place at home is nothing to celebrate, but the UF men’s cross country team is determined to take something positive from the loss.
Two weeks ago at the Mountain Dew Invitational, the team was beaten by a total of one point by the University of North Florida.
Some runners might dwell on the past and let it define them, but this group has tried to avoid falling into that trap.
"I feel like Mountain Dew was kinda a wake-up call for ‘em," cross country coach Paul Spangler said. "I think there’s a renewed sense of motivation or focus, and the men have looked good since Mountain Dew."
According to Spangler, the team’s renewed focus has not only had a mental effect but also a clear, physical consequence.
"We’ve looked a lot better at practice since Mountain Dew and Jimmy (Clark) has looked a lot better so the men, I think, are in a pretty good place right now."
And they’ll need to rebound in a big way this weekend, as the team’s A-team is heading to South Bend, Indiana, to compete in the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational.
This meet, which will feature several nationally ranked programs, could count toward UF’s advancement to regionals if they don’t place in the top-2 in the Southeastern Conference.
It's different from the team’s first two meets, which were essentially warm-ups.
Spangler has spoken extensively about how being "too sharp" early in the year can lead to a dramatic drop-off, which would be unfortunate considering the first two meets don’t count towards the postseason.
However, while the Gators still plan to exercise some restraint, Spangler expects it to be the team’s sharpest meet yet.
"We’ll be a little bit sharper for this meet. I mean, this is an important meet for us. It’s an opportunity for us to earn some at-large points if we need those come regionals."
The women’s team will also travel to South Bend and will be looking to continue the success that saw them take first place at the Mountain Dew Invitational.
While Spangler once thought that his team was overly top-heavy and lacked much depth beyond the fifth spot, he’s been pleased to see that while the 1-2-3 spots continue to be a cut above the rest, the 4-9 spots could all beat each other on any given day.
"Whereas before I felt like our top-five were pretty set in stone, now we’ve got a couple girls in Lauren (Brasure) and Maddox (Patterson) who are closing the gap to our fifth. So that’s encouraging," he said.
While the men’s and women’s teams will both send nine representatives to Notre Dame to compete today at 2:45 and 2:00 P.M. respectively, the rest of the available runners from both teams will travel to Tallahassee for the FSU Invitational, which will also be held today. Race time is 7:40 A.M. for the men and 8:20 A.M. for the women.
Follow Ethan Bauer on Twitter @ebaueri
Jimmy Clark races during the 2013 Mountain Dew Invitational.