Success Amid Heartbreak all the Emotions and highlights from Florida's runner-up finish at NCAA Indoor Championships

There is no shame in finishing second at NCAA Indoor Championships. There is no reason for a program which posted its 18th top-2 finish in its last 29 NCAA Championships to be discouraged, especially when no other program has done it more than nine times during that span. There is certainly no humiliation in finishing behind a Texas A&M team that, with no room for error, turned in a near-perfect two days of competition.

But losing by half a point, something that only happened one other time in history? Half a point? Nothing can take the sting out of such a close loss. And it was evident last Saturday (March 11) in College Station.

"We made some mistakes ... didn't do as well as we could have in some areas," head coach Mike Holloway said after the meet. "I'm pleased with the overall effort. It was a great day for us. We just came up a little bit short."

Florida entered the meet projected to win the team title.

But an 11th-place finish by second-seeded long jumper Grant Holloway dealt the Gators a blow Friday (March 10) night. Next it was Andres Arroyo missing the 800 meters final. Then came a disqualification and loss of three points in Saturday's 400 meters final. KeAndre Bates felt he could have won the triple jump, rather than finishing second, a difference of two points. Clayton Brown scored in both parts of a rare jumping double, doing it on a sore knee and an ankle he rocked on his third triple jump attempt, yet even he searched within himself for an extra half a point, as he and his teammates watched Texas A&M raise the team trophy.

"I did my best," Brown said, still replaying jumps in his head, longing for one that would earn the Gators another half a point.

Less than 30 meters from the celebration, all the Gators stood shell-shocked, everyone racking their mind in search of that missing half a point, and finding only heartbreak.

Coach Holloway could not watch it any longer. A remarkable orator, inspirational leader, and a man who seemingly always has the right response in the face of adversity, Holloway gathered his team.

The message was fiery, but compassionate. It was an acknowledgement of failure, though it also put the weekend in proper perspective.

To summarize, Holloway told his team, yes, they lost the track meet. They lost an athletics competition. But life continues, and they are blessed enough to continue living it; they are blessed enough to be healthy, to be breathing. This is just athletics.

Besides, this is not the last Florida will see of Texas A&M. It will not be the last 4x400 relay race between a pair of teams who, with the meet's outcome hanging in the balance, squared off and ran two of the 11 fastest times in collegiate history. Their next crack at one another will be at June's NCAA Outdoor Championships, where the Gators will be the defending national champions.

And for anyone seeking motivation in their preparations to protect that title over the next three months, they need only remember this moment.

"A lot of people would like to be second," Holloway said. "We're not going to pout about it."

***

While the overall tone of the trip was business-like, the Gators still had plenty of fun in their two practices leading up to the meet.

Unfortunately, during all the fun, Kunle Fasasi and Eric Futch may have single-handedly killed the #WaterBottleChallenge. The two tried for nearly two minutes before finally flipping a half-filled bottle and landing it upright.

Spoiler Alert: it fell over. (Insert laughing emoji.)

The fun did not end at practice for Grant Holloway Thursday afternoon, as the freshman participated in an interview with ESPN's production crew and the pre-meet press conference.

Per usual, Holloway made sure everyone enjoyed the sessions as much as he did.

After Grant stole the show, Coach Holloway took the stage and had a few amusing exchanges with his friend and coaching rival Robert Johnson, head coach of Oregon, during the coaches' press conference.

With all the work put in and media requests handled, finally, the real show began.

***

KeAndre Bates was instructed to light the fuse for Florida's national championship aspirations, and he did exactly that. Bates captured the third indoor long jump NCAA title in school history, with his winning jump tying his personal best of 8.04 meters (26 feet, 4.5 inches).

Bates was the only man in the competition to eclipse 8.00 meters, and he did it twice.

Meanwhile, on the track, things heated up. Kunle Fasasi and Eric Futch, neither of whom were seeded to be finalists, both qualified for the 400 meters final. Fasasi clocked a huge PR of 45.57 seconds, the No. 5-ranked time in school history. Futch posted a 46.17, just one hundredth of a second off his personal best.

It marked the 14th consecutive year Florida qualified at least one 400 meters finalist--which is the longest active streak in any event and tied for the third-longest streak in any event since 1990.

Fasasi (top) and Futch (bottom) gave the Gators a huge lift Friday night.

On the straightaway, Holloway overcame a frustrating 11th-place finish in the long jump and posted the fastest time in the 60 hurdles preliminary (7.64).

The women's team scored three points opening night.

Junior Lloydricia Cameron finished seventh in the shot put, becoming the first Gator to score in the event since 2010. Cameron's best throw of 17.34 meters (56 feet, 10.75 inches) was just 13 centimeters off her personal best.

Fellow junior Darrielle McQueen took eighth place in what may have been the deepest women's long jump competition in collegiate history. McQueen soared to a season-best jump of 6.38 meters (20 feet, 11.25 inches), a mark that would have put her in the top five in all but five NCAA meets since the first championship in 1983.

***

Day two's scoring opened with freshman Clayton Brown tying for fifth place in the high jump, only the third top-five finish by a Gator since 2001. Less than 10 minutes after his elimination from the high jump, Brown checked in for the triple jump.

The St. Andrew, Jamaica native went on to finish seventh, moving up two spots with a 15.92-meter leap (52 feet, 2.75 inches) on his last run.

Brown became just the second man since 1994 to score in both the high jump and triple jump.

Fasasi and Futch added to Florida's point total with fifth- and sixth-place finishes, respectively, a total of seven points, in the 400 final. But a disqualification led to the negation of Fasasi's four points. Futch bumped up to fifth place, leaving the Gators with three fewer points than they originally scored.

Back on the straightaway, Holloway became the second freshman since 1999 to win the 60 hurdles national title, a feat only accomplished by collegiate record holder Omar McLeod of Arkansas. It was also the second 60 hurdles title in program history, with Gator Great Eddie Lovett (2013) owning the other.

After bounding across the finish line, emotion overtook Holloway, who immediately found his coach and family, sharing the special moment with them.

Holloway shed tears of joy on the shoulders of his coach, Mike Holloway, following his first NCAA title.

Holloway hugging his father after winning the NCAA title.

Bates added to his impressive weekend with a runner-up finish in the triple jump, becoming the fourth Division I man since 2006 with top-2 finishes in both horizontal jumps. The other three--Marquis Dendy (2015), Will Claye (2011), Christian Taylor (2010)--are all Gator Greats.

And in the women's triple jump, Yanis David garnered runner-up honors, only finishing behind the American and collegiate record holder. David barely fouled a pair of 14-meter jumps, but still posted a respectable mark of 13.76 meters (45 feet, 1.75 inches) and was 11.25 inches clear of third place.

The women's competition came to a close with the Gators posting an eighth-place finish in the 4x400 relay. The quartet of Brandee' Johnson, Destinee Gause, Taylor Sharpe, and Sharrika Barnett clocked the No. 6-ranked time in school history (3:31.94).

The men's team competition all came down to the 4x4. And although the Gators took second, they clocked the 11th-fastest time in collegiate history (3:03.52). And Texas A&M needed every bit of its 3:02.80, the second-fastest time in collegiate history, to hold off the Gators.

Fasasi handed off to Holloway with the Gators in second place, exactly one second off the pace set by Texas A&M.

Holloway split 44.81 seconds, the fastest by any man in the field, to put the Gators back in front as he handed off to Futch.

Futch handed off to Ryan Clark, a 60/100/200-meter sprinter and Florida's top relay reserve who was given the nod shortly before the race.

Clark maintained the lead as long as he could, but Texas A&M's Mylik Kerley, who finished third in the open 400 meters, was too strong to hold off.

No matter the outcome, good or bad, all these performances are in the past. Now, it is time for Florida to get back to work, and start competing outdoors again. The Gators have a title to defend come June.

For more coverage from the NCAA Indoor Championships and the upcoming outdoor season, visit FloridaGators.com

Photos by Tim Casey (UAA Communications) and Cheryl Treworgy (PrettySporty Photos)

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