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Thursday, May 23, 2024
<p>UF's Eddie Garcia (157) leads the pack during the Mountain Dew Invitational on Sept. 19, 2015, at the Mark Bostick Golf Course.</p>

UF's Eddie Garcia (157) leads the pack during the Mountain Dew Invitational on Sept. 19, 2015, at the Mark Bostick Golf Course.

Last year, the Florida women’s and men’s cross country teams dominated the competition to open the season at the Covered Bridge Open, finishing first and second, respectively.

This year, the Gators will look for a repeat performance when they compete at the Covered Bridge in Boone, North Carolina, again on Sept. 2.

However, many of the runners who saw success at last year’s meet — such as Maria Larsen (who finished second), Eddie Garcia (fourth) and Jimmy Clark (fifth) — aren’t returning, either graduating or leaving for other circumstances.

While that may be concerning for other teams, coach Paul Spangler is confident that Florida will continue its success.

Spangler’s excitement comes partially from UF’s 12 new runners, who all bring new elements to the team.

On Monday, UF’s coach spoke highly of many Florida freshmen, including Hannah Brookover, who was the first cross country state champion from Pinellas County since 2000.

“She’s looked really good in practice. I’m very happy where she’s at right now, certainly being a talented athlete out of high school with multiple state championships out of Florida,” Spangler said.

“She’s an extremely hard worker, and I’m very impressed with what I’ve seen from her these past few weeks.”

And that’s just one of the recruits.

Jessica Pascoe, who won the 2016 Australian Jr. Championship, and Marshall Dillon, who has high school regional and district championships under his belt, are also highly coveted first-year athletes.

Part of their development will come from the competition and experience they will gain throughout the season, but other forms of improvement will come from watching and learning from UF’s established veterans.

“We got guys who can step into that leadership role,” Spangler said.

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“Like Carlos Miranda, Mac Reynolds, also being a senior, they have a chance stepping into that role.”

On the women’s team, the Gators have an experienced runner in Taylor Tubbs, who finished fifth at the Covered Bridge and 26th in the NCAA South Regional Championships last season.

“With a large and very talented freshman class, she is gonna be called upon to step up,” Spangler said of the senior.

“Not only out on the course in terms of performance, but also in the locker room and helping lead these freshmen.”

And while Miranda, Reynolds and Tubbs all had top-15 finishes at the Covered Bridge Open in 2015, UF’s coach said he’s not solely going to rely on the seniors to provide leadership.

“Some of our guys that were freshmen last year, that are upperclassmen, like Seamus Love and Jack Guyton,” Spangler said.

“Those are two guys that have shown leadership qualities in the past.”

The same can be said for sophomore Elisabeth Bergh, who finished ninth last year at the Covered Bridge and competed in six races for the Gators.

“The core of the group is back, and we added an excellent recruiting class,” Spangler said. “I’m excited from what I’ve seen in practice so far.”

Contact Skyler Lebron at slebron@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.

UF's Eddie Garcia (157) leads the pack during the Mountain Dew Invitational on Sept. 19, 2015, at the Mark Bostick Golf Course.

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