At James G. Pressly Stadium on Tuesday, you could hear the deafening blast of a starter pistol going off every few minutes, followed by the sight of a small puff of smoke whirling up into the air.
Athletes lay on the ground stretching, and coaches stood watching on the sides wearing caps and sunglasses.
Senior KeAndre Bates, junior Yanis David and sophomore Clayton Brown took turns making long, structured strides before leaping into a rectangular sandpit, preparing for their upcoming events.
The mood all around was one of excitement and anticipation.
UF’s No. 2 men’s and No. 8 women’s track and field teams will travel to College Station, Texas, to compete in the 2018 Indoor SEC Championships at Gilliam Indoor Stadium this weekend. Coverage will begin on SEC Network at 3:55 p.m. on Saturday and 6 p.m. on Sunday.
“We live for this time of year,” coach Mike Holloway said. “The SEC meet is one of the best meets in the world, and we’re just blessed and fortunate to be a part of it.”
Bates, the reigning indoor national champion, will look to collect the fourth SEC title of his college career this weekend. The three-time 2017 SEC Champion holds titles in the indoor and outdoor triple jumps as well as the outdoor long jump.
Bates said in practice on Tuesday that to prepare for SECs, he has been focused on listening to his coaches and sticking to what has worked.
In addition to the exhilaration of being in a championship environment, there are two things that excite the El Paso native about returning to his home state: family and Shipley Do-nuts.
His biggest goal for the meet is simple.
“Execute,” Bates said. “Because the marks come after. (They) don’t even exist until they happen anyways, so it’s (about) execution.”
Bates has led the nation all season in the men’s triple jump, and he ranks seventh nationally in the long jump.
For freshman Amanda Froeynes, she will be competing in the first SEC indoor championships of her collegiate career.
Froeynes has been leaning on her coaches and experienced teammates to help her get ready for the conference meet.
“They’re my family,” she said. “They’re just really supportive.”
She will compete in the pentathlon on Saturday and in the high jump on Sunday.
“Of course I’m nervous, but I’m really excited to see what I can do now,” Froeynes said. “I feel like I’m in better shape now than I was when I did my pentathlon three weeks ago.”
UF is seeking its eighth SEC title on the men’s side and ninth on the women’s side.
“We started preparing them mentally from the first day of practice,” Holloway said. “We need to match the drive, desire and intensity of the other teams there. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”
Follow Alanis Thames on Twitter @alanisthames and contact her at email@example.com.
Senior KeAndre Bates makes his return home to Texas for the 2018 Indoor SEC Championships.