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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Sam Austin, Ryan Maseman lead UF track and field mid-distance group under pressure

Austin, Maseman have stepped into leadership roles during their junior seasons

The Gators men’s cross country team runs in the Mountain Dew Invitational on Sept. 15, 2023.
The Gators men’s cross country team runs in the Mountain Dew Invitational on Sept. 15, 2023.

Florida track and field athlete Sam Austin stands at the line, shakes his left hand twice and takes a deep breath. The 800-meter run is about to start. The gun fires and Austin takes off, careful to keep a good pace out of the gate. 

His teammates watch Austin as he looks to conquer another record in the 800. He’s under pressure to perform because of his experience as a decorated mid-distance runner on the team.

The junior from Winter Springs, Florida, currently holds the fastest 800 time in Gators track and field history with a time of 1 minute, 46.06 seconds. 

Coming into his junior season, the pressure to lead the mid-distance group to success was mounting. 

Nearing the end of his third collegiate indoor season, Austin, along with having the fastest 800 time in Gators history, was named to the 2023 U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Indoor First Team All-American and the USTFCCCA Indoor Second Team All-American in 2022, both for the 800. 

“I would say some of the other guys look toward me because I have the fastest time, and I’m the most experienced,” Austin said. “I guess there’s a little bit of pressure there, but it’s also nice knowing that I’m helping lead the future 800 group.” 

Ryan Maseman, a fellow junior and transfer from the University of Alabama, has also stepped up in a leadership role this season. He said the newer team members look up to him and Austin for tips on training, race strategies and advice. 

“We have three freshmen this year, and I think all three of them have really looked at Sam and I for advice and everything,” Maseman said. “It’s been really good for the both of us to step into a leadership role this year with those younger guys.” 

Younger mid-distance team members like freshman Miguel Pantojas have flourished in the team atmosphere fostered by Austin and Maseman. Pantojas joined his teammate at No. 10 on UF’s Top-10 list for the 800 with his time of 1:48.08 at the 2024 Tyson Invitational. 

In regard to the mid-distance group atmosphere, Pantojas said everyone in the group is close and always there for one another. He said the group is “like family.” 

The younger members of the group understand the importance of getting along with and supporting their teammates. 

“I think good team culture is really important,” Pantojas wrote in an email. “We motivate each other to be the best version of ourselves and create a successful environment every day.”

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“We’ve got a good group this year, it’s been a lot of fun at practice,” Maseman said. “I know that going forward I am going to be able to have some good races.” 

Austin and Maseman said a strong team and group culture is essential to being successful and enjoying the victories.

As both a leader and member of the high-performing group, Austin gets to experience firsthand the benefits that come with group chemistry.

He said it’s amazing to be a part of the strong team the mid-distance group has created. 

While Austin’s leadership has a significant impact on the team, it is by no means an authoritarian act. His teammates respect his role but certainly don’t take it too seriously.

Maseman said they call Austin their “fearless leader.”

Despite all the expectations that come with the success of Austin’s first two years, he tries not to let exterior pressure impact his or his team’s performance. Especially not rankings or polls. 

“Rankings really never matter to us,” Austin said. “As a team … we’re never projected to win, and we always end up making good shots at it. [Rankings] are nice and they’re fun, but it’s really just one meet at a time.”

The concept of “one meet at a time” is something Austin always tries to instill in his group. He said every time the group steps on the track, he urges the team to give it their all and helps them realize some days will be better than others. 

Ryan Maseman hopes to continue this group mindset through the end of the season.  

“I’m just looking forward to hopefully…  getting it right on [SEC Indoors] and maybe I can go out there and run a fast time and get on a plane to nationals with Sam,” Maseman said. 

Austin and Maseman, along with both Gators’ track and field teams, will look to claim the SEC Indoor Championship in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Feb. 23-24. 

Contact Emma DiNicola at Follow her on X @emdinicolaUF.

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