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Monday, May 27, 2024
<p>Jimmy Clark races during the 2013 Mountain Dew Invitational.</p>

Jimmy Clark races during the 2013 Mountain Dew Invitational.

Heading into Friday’s NCAA South Regional Championship, the University of Florida’s men’s and women’s cross country teams may have some ground to make up.

On the heels of dual seventh place finishes at the 2015 Southeastern Conference Championships, the Gators — beneficiaries of several strong individual showings — are looking to gel on the terrain, to come together as a team and effectively implement coach Paul Spangler’s race plan.

If history is any indicator, they may finally solve their season-long jigsaw puzzle.

The Gators have a history of strong finishes at the South Regional Championship: Dating back to 2005, the women’s side has placed top-five in each of the 10 runnings of the event.

The crown jewel of that dominant streak, a 2009 first place finish stands out as the women’s best result on the USTFCCCA’s all-time history for the meet. Toppling runners-up FSU by 21 points, the Gators placed three runners in the top five, with Rebecca Lowe’s 20:03.29 6k besting her next closest opponent — teammate Charlotte Browning — by 9.20 seconds.

Lowe’s blistering run still stands as the third fastest 6k in the history of the women’s program, and the second fastest split clocked by a Gator at South Regionals.

If Florida hopes to unseat bitter rival Florida State — winner of six of the last eight iterations of this event — they’ll need to channel some of 2009’s magic on race day.

As for the men, they’ve pieced together an equally impressive streak: With nine top-five finishes over ten years, an eighth place result in 2014 is the only blemish on an otherwise solid record.

The men, however, have yet to reach the summit of the South’s cross country circuit. Eight podium finishes — twice finishing second fiddle — populate the record books, but that elusive piece of first place hardware continues to escape the Gators.

Individually, 2013 stands as the Gators’ closest brush with glory. In spite of shaving 17 and four seconds off of victor Georgia’s total and average times, respectively, Florida lost out on the title by a lone point, falling by a score of 72 to 73.

Then-senior Mark Parrish paced the Gators, turning in a 29:44.24 10k, etching his name into the Florida record books by posting the sixth fastest 10k in the history of the men’s program. Current redshirt senior Jimmy Clark finished in second 5.2 seconds behind, with then-junior Eddie Garcia finishing in ninth.

Despite their Herculean efforts, the men’s top-three were denied in their quest for gold by an all-too-familiar nemesis — depth.

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While four of the Gators’ top five runners defeated their Georgian equivalents, three athletes — fourth runner Carlos Miranda, sixth runner Mac Reynolds and seventh runner Harsha Torke — fell short in their matchups, finishing a combined 92 places behind their Bulldog counterparts.

Regardless of the past, what’s done is done: With the women and men set to hit the Harry Pritchett Running Course terrain at 10 and 11 AM, respectively, these Gators will set out to carve their own place in Florida history today.

 Follow Alejandro Lopez on Twitter @ajlb95

Jimmy Clark races during the 2013 Mountain Dew Invitational.

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