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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Gators win eight events in rain-shortened Pepsi Florida Relays

Inclement weather limited the three-day competition to Friday and Saturday

<p>Florida Heptathlete Anna Hall qualified for Team USA on Saturday with her performance at the USATF Combined Championships.</p>

Florida Heptathlete Anna Hall qualified for Team USA on Saturday with her performance at the USATF Combined Championships.

After an intense, record-breaking 400-meter relay, Florida sophomore Anna Hall immediately crumpled to the synthetic rubber surface after crossing the finish line.

Exhausted, the Highlands Ranch, Colorado, native collapsed on her back with her eyes closed, both hands on her head. A few seconds later, the widest grin appeared across her face as the public address announcer proclaimed her the new Florida record holder. 

She fist-pumped the air twice before picking herself up and embracing teammates who arrived to congratulate her. Hall’s 55.35-second effort is even more impressive considering this was her first collegiate 400-meter hurdles attempt.

After breaking the Florida heptathlon mark at last week’s Texas Relays, Hall used every athletic fiber she had to overcome a last-second push in the final 100 meters from Kentucky junior Masai Russell.

Relentless April showers may have eliminated Thursday and half of Saturday from the Pepsi Florida Relays schedule, but Gators track and field made the most of their relay and individual events over the weekend. 

Several Division I programs and Florida high schools made the trek to Gainesville to compete at James G. Pressly Stadium’s Percy Beard Track. 

Florida found early success in their first event Friday, the women’s long jump. Sophomores Jasmine Moore (6.52m) and Claire Bryant (6.47m) finished first and second in a very competitive field to hand the Gators their first event win of the meet.

The 200-meter dash was easily one of the most exciting races of the afternoon slate. The Florida faithful cheered sophomore Talitha Diggs and junior Jacory Patterson on to an event sweep. Diggs set a new personal best and NCAA mark in the competition, finishing in 22.78 seconds to place third on Florida’s all-time leaderboard. 

In the men’s first heat, redshirt-sophomore Joseph Fahnbulleh recovered from a relatively slow start to edge out Georgia sophomore Matthew Boling by 0.09 seconds, recording a 20.22-second time. Fahnbulleh, the 2021 NCAA 200-meter outdoor champion, was bested by Patterson in heat two by the smallest of margins – two one-thousands of a second. 

Graduate student Mark Porter competed in his first javelin event since winning the 2021 Big-10 javelin championship. The Penn State transfer’s longest toss was 68.71 meters, earning the runner-up spot and sixth on Florida’s all-time list. 

Friday’s events were capped off by the 3,000-meter steeplechase and the 5,000-meter run. UF sophomores Pamela O’Brien and Ethan Geiger both finished in second place and set new personal bests. O’Brien completed the steeplechase in 10:44.86, cracking the Gators all-time top-10. Geiger ran a 14:25.03 in the 5,000m. 

The plan to resume the meet at 9 a.m. Saturday morning was shot down by yet another lightning delay and torrential rain that continued well into the afternoon. Despite lingering storms, the University Athletic Association green-lit a 6 p.m. return to action.

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The Gators paid no mind to the poor track conditions Saturday night, racking up another four victories and a slew of top-3 performances.

Junior Imogen Barrett became the NCAA leader in the 800-meter dash this season with a 2:02.02 effort. Her personal best was also the fourth-best time in school history. Freshman Sam Austin followed up with a second-place 1:48.15 finish in the men’s 800, the sixth-best mark in the nation this year. 

Florida showed out in the men’s and women’s triple jump categories. Junior Jonathan Miller (15.26m) won the men’s competition and sophomore Alissa Braxton (12.13m) finished behind Clemson senior Harleigh White in the women’s. 

Fahnbulleh avenged his narrow defeat in Friday’s 200-meter dash by dominating the 100-meter race. The 2021 Tokyo olympian finished in 10.22 seconds, a full two-tenths of a second better than runner-up Gators senior Dedrick Vanover and sophomore Tyler Davis, who tied with 10.41-second performances. 

Sophomore Grace Stark entered the NCAA top-10 in her first 100-meter hurdles attempt of the outdoor season, crossing the finish line in 12.99 seconds.

The Orange and Blue’s relay team wrapped up the meet with a second-place finish in the 4x100-meter race. Stark, Diggs, Hall and senior Cait Tate completed the one-lap event in 43.69 seconds.

As UF tradition dictates, when the 4x400-meter relay events were announced to close out the competition, all non-competing Florida athletes made their way to the lower sections of the grandstand to cheer on their teammates. Despite the exceptionally long weekend and endless delays, the support from the Gators on the sidelines was as boisterous as ever. 

Sophomore Vanessa Watson and junior Sterling Lester combined with Hall and Diggs for a 3:29.20 runner-up effort in the finale. The quartet of Austin, senior Kemuel Santana, sophomores Anthony Brodie and Jacob Miley placed third in their 4x400 with a 3:07.95 time. 

Florida will have a week off from competition and then host the Tom Jones Memorial Invitational April 15-16 at James G. Pressly Stadium. The meet will be streamed on ESPN’s digital platforms.

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Ethan Eibe

Ethan Eibe is a second-year UF sports media major and covers Gators baseball for The Alligator. Outside of his writing, Ethan is a play-by-play broadcaster for UF student radio and has spent two summers announcing professional baseball with the Alpine Cowboys. He is a long-suffering Miami Marlins fan.

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