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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Parker Valby becomes a national champion; Gators’ women’s cross country place fifth at nationals

The Gators end with highest finish in program history

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.

Redshirt junior Parker Valby’s performance on the national stage Saturday morning can be described as a comeback race. 

She finished 3.2 seconds behind NC State’s senior Katelyn Tuohy at last year’s national championship. Valby got her redemption, becoming the 2023 NCAA Cross Country National Champion. Finishing the 6k in first in 18:55.2, Valby set a new championship record, which was previously 19:19.5, set by New Mexico’s Ednah Kurgat in 2017.

Valby’s individual title is now the first ever for Florida’s cross-country program on either the women’s and the men’s side. 

As seen in her previous races, Valby led the pack through all checkpoints of the competition, even having an 18.4-second lead halfway through the race. Valby earned her title in a dominant fashion after she finished 10.6 seconds faster than the runner-up.

“I just told myself, ‘no looking back,’” Valby said. “Once you go for it, you go for it.”

The Gator’s women’s cross country team had the chance to make one last statement for their season as well, and they sure did. Placing 5th at the NCAA Cross Country Championships, Florida was able to pull away with their best finish in school history.

Behind Valby were redshirt seniors Flomena Asekol and Allison Wilson, who placed in the top-40 scoring runners, finishing in 19:26.9 and 20:12.6, respectively. Asekol had an assertive performance, as she crossed the 1k mark in 56th place and passed a total of 50 runners to ultimately finish the race in 6th, becoming an All-American with Valby.

Wilson had a similar performance, as she crossed the 1k mark in 115th place, and finished in 49th. The remaining scoring runners, redshirt senior Elise Thorner and redshirt junior Liine Winborn placed 75th and 202nd, respectively. Florida’s sixth runner, sophomore Lucinda Rourke, finished 242nd, while redshirt senior Amelia Mazza-Downie did not finish the race due to a stress reaction, resulting in a DNF. 

These performances pushed Florida to a fifth place finish in 268 points — one spot better than the men’s highest performance and two spots better than the women’s.

Early in the season, head coach Will Palmer discussed the strong runners he had coming into the fall, explaining how he was excited for a team that compared very favorably to the one he coached last year at Alabama.

“And I would think that women are probably going to consistently be ranked top five this year,” Palmer said in August.

To say Palmer is a psychic may be a bit of a stretch, as the Gators’ best performance in school history was anything but sheer luck. The cumulative effort put on by each runner resulted in a definitive way for the Florida women to end their season.

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Parker Valby [JR]- 18:55.2

Flomena Asekol [SR]- 19:26.9

Allison Wilson [JR]- 20:12.6

Elise Thorner [JR]- 20:31.0

Liina Winborn [JR]- 21:34.0

Lucinda Rourke [SO] -22:34.7

Amelia Mazza-Downie [RS SR]- DNF

SPREAD- 2:38.9

AVERAGE- 20:07.9

TOTAL- 1:40:39.4

Contact Isabella Morales at Follow her on Twitter @isasmorales.

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