Florida’s busy weekend began on Friday and spilled over into Saturday as the cross country and track and field teams competed in the South Carolina Invitational.
The men’s cross country team finished in last place with 525 points Friday morning in Tallahassee but freshman Stephanie Ormsby finished 21st in her collegiate debut at 20:44.9 — the leading time on a Florida women’s team that finished 15th.
The track and field team returned to Columbia, South Carolina, for their second meet Saturday. Nine Gators broke into the top 10 in their events and multiple facility records were broken.
Junior Sterling Lester received 3,837 points in the women’s pentathlon, placing second. She kicked off Friday strong, winning the first event: the 60m hurdles. Despite placing no higher than second in any other event, her score was good enough for sixth place on UF’s Indoor All-Time Top 10 list in the pentathlon.
Saturday opened with a national best performance from Thomas Mardal, who made his season debut in the weight throw. In four attempts, the Norwegian threw 23.14m, enough to beat his previous best of 22.89, which was recorded at last year’s SEC Championship. The senior landed just behind the all-time record of 23.35 set in 2019.
The women’s long jump brought two podium places for UF: redshirt freshman Alexis Brown and freshman Claire Bryant, who finished second and third with jumps of 6.10m and 5.99m, respectively. Brown made her season debut while Bryant gained another top-3 finish under her belt after winning the long jump at the Carolina Challenge two weeks ago.
In the men’s long jump, recent Arizona transfer PJ Austin’s attempt of 7.67m was the ninth best in the NCAA this year. It also secured another first place finish for Florida.
Florida had more success in the triple jump, where four more athletes placed in the top three. Kala Penn and Natricia Hooper both secured the top two spots despite debuting this year. Penn’s jump of 13.41m is the seventh best in the NCAA this year. In the men’s triple jump, last week’s SEC Freshman of the Week Malcolm Clemons finished second and junior Jonathan Miller finished third.
To close out the field events, redshirt senior Connor Bandal picked up a third place finish in the shot put with a throw of 18.73m.
The track didn’t slow down Florida’s impressive showings throughout the day.
In the 60m, Dedrick Vanover took third place with a 6.71, improving on his 6.80 from the Carolina Challenge. Semira Killebrew finished second in the women’s race, clocking in a time of 7.34.
Grace Stark was the 2020 SEC Women’s Freshman Runner of the Year. In her season debut Saturday, she continued where she left off last season. The sophomore ran a 8.06 in the 60m hurdles, which placed her right at the top of the NCAA.
Despite Florida’s success in the Palmetto State Saturday, one performance stood above the rest.
In the second race of her collegiate career, Talitha Diggs recorded a 52.34 in the 400m. This time not only gave her the facility record and the title of NCAA leader this season, but also landed in sixth place in Florida’s record books as well as being the sixth fastest time in the world this year.
Named the SEC freshman of the Week after winning the 200m at the Carolina Challenge, The success that the Pennsylvania native is currently displaying across multiple events will prove to be helpful in Florida’s 2019 Indoor Championship. Senior Taylor Manson finished third in the same race while freshman Ryan Willie did the same in the men’s division.
The orange and blue shined in the 800m. Jacob Miley took his second first place of the year with a time of 1:51.85. Gabrielle Wilknson did the same, finishing the race in 2:05.71.
After being beaten by facility records in his last 200m, Joseph Fahnbulleh did the record setting. The sophomore placed first with a time of 20.60, .09 seconds faster than his previous time on the course. He is now third in the NCAA this year.
The final events were the relay races. Florida set a new facility record of 2:17.55 in the 4x300. The Gators brought home two more second place finishes in the 4x400 relays.
The next track meet is set for Feb.12. Florida will travel to Fayetteville, Arkansas, for the Tyson Invitational.
Contact Myles Herbert at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @myles_herbert