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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Parker Valby leads Gators to top-5 finish in Wisconsin with course record

Florida’s women’s cross country went on the road, set statement for the team

Three Florida runners compete in the Mountain Dew Invitational on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023.
Three Florida runners compete in the Mountain Dew Invitational on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023.

Brutal 19 mph winds and heavy rainfall – nowhere near ideal conditions for a cross country race. But a course record from redshirt junior Parker Valby and a top-5 finish for the Gators in the women’s 6k championship seems to dismiss such pessimistic thinking.

Just eight miles southwest of Madison, Wisconsin, at approximately noon, the sound of a gun signaled 249 runners on a 6k route through the Thomas Zimmer Championship Course. 

The Nuttycombe Invitational is viewed as one of the premier races in the country, with 36 teams receiving votes or rankings earlier in the season and 22 being nationally ranked. 

Florida sent seven of its strongest runners to Wisconsin for the first time since 2014, when the Gators competed in the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational. Four of Florida’s runners, freshman Sayla Donnelley, sophomore Lucinda Rourke, redshirt senior Allison Wilson and redshirt junior Liina Winborn, have already raced this season. 

Senior Flomena Asekol, who transferred from Alabama, and redshirt senior Elise Thorner, who transferred from New Mexico, made their Florida and season debuts. 

Valby, who was the 2022 NCAA XC Championships runner-up, also ran her 2023 season debut, and made a statement doing so.

“My coach just told me to trust my instinct, so I went with my gut,” Valby said in an interview with RunnerSpace, a news and media website that covers running competitions.

Through each checkmark, Valby maintained a lead in front of North Carolina State senior Katelyn Tuohy, who beat Valby by three seconds at the NCAA XC Championship last year. As the race progressed, Valby’s lead increased. From a 7.5 second lead at the 4k mark to winning by a 12 second margin, Valby finished first in 19:17.2. 

Valby beat the previous course record of 19:33.30, set by Wisconsin’s Alicia Monson in 2018, and she led her team to a fifth place finish with 262 points. Each of the Gator’s finishers completed the 6k in under 22 minutes with a team average of 20:30.3. 

“I’m just going to give it all for my team,” Valby said.

Wilson, Florida’s fourth finisher, set a personal record in the collegiate 6k for the first time since 2019. She beat her previous time of 20:42.5 with a 20:38.4 finish. Donnelley dropped out of the race soon after crossing the 2k mark in 7:00.9, denoting a did not finish (DNF) result.

With the women on the road, the Gator’s men’s team stayed in the swamp, preparing for the upcoming SEC Championships Oct. 27. The Nuttycombe Invitational saw impressive performances across the field and marked the end of Florida’s regular season.

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Northern Arizona swept the women’s 6k with 52 points, followed by NC State with 95 points and Georgetown with 208.The results were surprising as NC State was the 2022 NCAA XC Champions, with NAU and Georgetown finishing sixth and 10th respectively. 

Florida, who didn’t even compete as a team at nationals last year, has put itself on the radar as a top-5 finisher, alluding to a promising postseason. 

WOMEN'S 6000M

Parker Valby [RS JR]- 19:17.2

Flomena Asekol [SR]- 20:14.2

Elise Thorner [RS SR]- 20:32.5

Allison Wilson [RS SR]- 20:38.4

Lucinda Rourke [SO]- 21:49.1

Liina Winborn [RS JR]- 21:58.6

Sayla Donnelley [FR]- DNF

TEAM: 

Spread - 2:32.0

Average - 20:30.3 

Total - 1:42:31.2

Contact Isabella Morales at imorales@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @isasmorales.

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