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Saturday, March 02, 2024

Women’s cross country wins first SEC title since 2012; men finish 7th

The Gators began their postseason competitions off strong, adding a new trophy to the case

Redshirt senior Allison Wilson points to the sky after she finished first for the Florida Gators in the Mountain Dew Invitational at Mark Bostick Golf Course Friday, Sept. 15, 2023.
Redshirt senior Allison Wilson points to the sky after she finished first for the Florida Gators in the Mountain Dew Invitational at Mark Bostick Golf Course Friday, Sept. 15, 2023.

The Florida Gators women’s cross country team was united as ever Friday morning in Columbia, South Carolina. Not just by their matching nail sets and Gators face stickers, but also by the program’s first SEC Championship title since 2012. 

Redshirt junior Parker Valby led the 6k in 18:37.5, becoming a back-to-back SEC champion — the fourth athlete to ever do so since 2013. 

“My coach told me to stay calm and trust my instinct, so I trusted my instinct,” Valby said in an interview on SEC Network.

By the 4k mark, Valby was one second behind Alabama’s freshman Doris Lemngole. However, that lead was short-lived, as Valby had a 14.1 second gap at the 5k mark and a 33.8 second win margin.

Behind Valby for the Gators was redshirt senior Flomena Asekol, who finished fourth in 19:31.9. These top-7 overall performances made Asekol and Valby the only All-SEC First Team runners for the program.

Asekol, along with four other runners in the Gators’ top-5 finishers, didn’t run on the team a year ago. Asekol and redshirt senior Allison Wilson transferred from Alabama, where head coach Will Palmer also was a year ago, leading them to a 2022 SEC Championship title. This makes Palmer a back-to-back conference champion himself — with Alabama last year and now Florida.

Redshirt seniors Elise Thorner and Amelia Mazza-Downie transferred from New Mexico, with this race being Mazza-Downie’s debut for the Gators. Having patience and waiting to race was difficult for Mazza-Downie, but she explained she was on board with Palmer’s plan to have her compete when needed. 

“That just added a bit more fuel to practice and my mindset cause I knew that we could race really well at SECs if I lined up,” she said. 

She views Valby as her inspiration, as in previous years, Valby has executed the same tactic of maintaining herself until high-stake races. 

“I’ve watched her do it time and time again, so there was no reason I couldn’t do it today,” Mazza-Downie said.

The deja vu from this race continues, as 11 years ago, Florida managed to pull off a team victory over Arkansas by nine points. Today, the Gators were crowned the title with 49 points, beating Arkansas by 10 points. 

The men’s 7th place finish in 194 points is an improvement from their 10th place finish in 2022 and their pre-season SEC 8th place ranking. Ethan Geiger led the men in 24:05.0 for the 8k, finishing in 26th. 

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Florida’s men’s top-5 finishers all finished in less than 25 minutes, with freshman Parvej Khan, and sophomores Adam Magoulas and Matthew Stratton all making their season debuts. 

As Palmer said earlier in the season, the men’s team is in a building stage, and their improvement from previous years demonstrates that.

With the postseason competition now underway, the Gators are looking to continue their domination on home turf Nov. 10 at the NCAA South Regional XC Championships, with the hopes of qualifying for nationals as a team.

“We’re using this as just another race,” Valby said. “We’re gonna channel in that inner energy and bring it to nationals.”

WOMENS 6000M

Parker Valby [RS JR]- 18:37.5

Flomena Asekol [RS SR]- 19:31.9

Amelia Mazza-Downie [RS SR]- 19:56.7

Elise Thorner [RS SR]- 20:13.8

Allison Wilson [RS SR]- 20:18.5

Liina Winborn [RS JR]- 20:56.6

Lucinda Rourke [SO]- 21:11.4

Vasileia Spyrou [RS JR]- 21:34.5

Olivia Jones [RS SO]- 21:44.0

Jordan Shapiro [RS JR]- 21:53.4

TEAM:

Spread- 1:41.0

Average- 19:43.7

Total- 1:38:38.1

MENS 8000M

Ethan Geiger [RS JR]- 24:05.0

Parvej Khan [FR]- 24:22.8

Joe Wester [JR]- 24:40.7

Adam Magoulas [SO]- 24:51.6

Aiden Villasuso [JR]- 24:58.7

Michael Fiore [JR]- 25:07.8

Javier Vento [JR]- 25:41.6

Matthew Stratton [SO]- 33:17.6

TEAM:

Spread- 53.7

Average- 24:35.7

Total- 2:02:58.4

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


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