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Monday, April 22, 2024

Florida’s women’s cross country team is nationals bound; men place 10th at regionals

The Gators hold strong, punching a straight ticket to the NCAA XC National Championship for the first time since 2018

Redshirt junior Parker Valby runs during the NCAA South Regional on Friday, Nov. 10, 2023.
Redshirt junior Parker Valby runs during the NCAA South Regional on Friday, Nov. 10, 2023.

A Friday morning on Mark Bostick Golf Course. With the sun making its way above the horizon, the Florida women’s cross-country team stampeded away from the start line, finishing a race that would qualify the Gators for nationals for the first time since 2018.

With a total of 29 teams staggered across the turf, only two would automatically qualify for the NCAA XC National Championships Nov. 18 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Florida placed 2nd with 79 points, punching them a ticket straight to Panorama Farms, where the University of Virginia will host the race. 

“We’re really just trying to finish this season off on a high note,” head coach Will Palmer said. “I definitely think as a team they can finish inside the top 10 [at nationals]. We’ll see what they can put together on the day.”

All of the Gators’ scoring runners completed the 6k in less than 20 minutes, and four of those runners medaled, finishing in the top 25. 

Florida redshirt junior Parker Valby dominated the field, maintaining first place through all checkpoints and finishing in a new personal record of 17:59.6 — her first time dipping under 18 minutes.

Valby is now a back-to-back NCAA South Regional champion, as she won last year in 19:17.20. Yet, this year is different, as Valby won’t be traveling to nationals alone. 

“We train together really hard everyday and worked really hard for this, so it’s super exciting to be able to go there with them,” Valby said.

Only two of Florida’s seven runners competed on the team last year, Valby and sophomore Lucinda Rourke. Three runners, redshirt seniors Flomena Asekol, Allison Wilson and Elise Thorner transferred to UF, while redshirt junior Liina Winborn and freshman Sayla Donnelley made their collegiate debuts this season. 

Even though this team is newly formed, their dynamic, facilitated by Palmer, has proved to be powerful, as the Gators have accomplished many successes this season. And they’re still not done.

As for the men, their 10th place finish in 276 points marks the end of their cross country season. Just a year ago, the men placed 19th at regionals, and this year showed a big turn around in their performance. 

Redshirt junior Ethan Geiger finished first for the Gators, placing 29th in a new personal record of 29:49.3. 

All of Florida’s men ran the 10k in under 32 minutes, with juniors Joe Wester, Aiden Villasuso and Javier Vento, freshman Parvej Khan, and sophomore Adam Magoulas setting their own personal records. 

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“We were great. The men took a big step forward from last year,” Palmer said. 

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

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