Dynasties are hard to root for. Competitors and rival fanbases, are envious of their seemingly never-ending success. Even setting allegiances aside, they are flat out boring. Who wants a predictable outcome from a world of infinite possibilities?
A dynasty is like a monster truck barreling down city streets, flattening underdogs, demolishing Cinderella stories, eradicating the element of surprise. Cheering such dominance is like rooting for Darth Vader, or Voldemort. Villains are supposed to be worthy adversaries, not the ultimate victors. Seeing them actually win (and win repeatedly) would be soul crushing.
When you are the dynasty, though, it is hard to understand how anyone picks against sustained greatness. It is baffling, almost frustrating, how the slightest speed bump is a sign of impending demise in the eyes of prognosticators and those wishing to upend the establishment.
That is all Florida head coach Mike Holloway heard this season, and the chatter amplified ahead of last weekend’s NCAA Indoor Championships.
Pre-meet projections favored Texas Tech and Wisconsin. Texas Tech had the most entries and, based on seeding, the highest-scoring team. Wisconsin represented the anti-establishment, taking half as many entries as Florida and Texas Tech and relying almost entirely on two distance stars.
Both were sexier, certainly more entertaining picks.
Making predictions according to seeding alone, however, would be like picking a Super Bowl winner based on Madden simulations. Sure, percentage-wise, it produces the “right” pick. In actual competition, though, there are far too many variables in play. And leaning too heavily on just a pair of athletes, talented as they may be, has rarely, if ever, been a championship-winning formula.
Many believed Florida was over-reliant on superstar Grant Holloway, with some estimating he would score twice as many points in his three events as the rest of the Gators combined. Others pointed to the fact only three of Florida’s 10 entries aside from Holloway were, on paper, expected to score.
Boy, did those folks get quite a surprise.
“Once we won that first one, then we all knew it could be done,” Coach Holloway said in a radio interview earlier this week. “There’s a confidence, kind of a swag, as people like to call it, that we walk in the building with. We’re not cocky. We’re not overconfident. But we walk in knowing if we do our jobs, we have a chance.”
Coach Holloway walked into the Birmingham CrossPlex a little more juiced up than usual last weekend.
There was a notion he lost his touch coaching the sprints. At last year’s NCAA Indoors, Florida did not have an entrant in the 60 meters, 200 meters, or 400 meters for the first time since 1996, when he joined the staff as an assistant coach for sprints, hurdles and relays. Bear in mind, they won the meet anyway. Still, detractors saw world-class speed in Hakim Sani Brown, a former elite high school recruit in Ryan Clark, and a stable of talented quarter-milers. How could all of them miss the 2018 field?
“I had some people poking at me, telling me I couldn’t coach the sprints anymore,” Coach Holloway said. “I’m a competitor. I took it personally.”
What nobody saw were the hardships each dealt with behind the scenes. The quarter-milers were victims of a historically fast season. Clark struggled with his diet for the better part of three seasons, an issue he’s since put behind him. Sani Brown was, according to Coach Holloway, “a little fragile, a little dinged up,” upon his arrival in Gainesville.
“It would’ve been unfair for me to rush him into doing the things I know he’s capable of doing,” he said of Sani Brown. “I promised his mom I’d be patient with him. The goal was for Hakim to be ready in ’19 and be ready in 2020, because the Olympics are in his backyard. It wasn’t about the University of Florida. It had to be about Hakim and his career.”
All three Gators – Clark, Holloway, Sani Brown – made the 60 final, 25 minutes after sophomore Benjamin Lobo Vedel became a 400 finalist.
“I wanted to get three guys in the (60) final,” Coach Holloway said. “That group set the fire for the rest of the meet. From the moment we put three guys in the final Friday, the rest of the meet took off right there.”
At that moment, the meet turned into a one-sided chess match. The Gators had too many high-value pieces left on the board, and they were a handful of moves away from declaring checkmate. Barring mistakes of their own creation, Saturday would serve as an anti-climactic coronation rather than a point-for-point battle through every event.
True to form, Florida was nearly flawless.
Fifth-year senior high jumper Jhonny Victor, who entered tied for the 13th seed, took eighth place for a point. Lobo Vedel, ranked 12th on the entry list, nabbed two points with a seventh-place finish in the 400. Florida’s weight throw duo turned in two of the three best NCAA Indoors performances in school history, as redshirt senior AJ McFarland and sophomore Thomas Mardal combined for seven points with fourth- and seventh-place finishes, respectively. Sani Brown took third and Clark finished sixth in the Florida-filled 60, securing another nine points. The clincher came from junior Clayton Brown, who outperformed his No. 10 seed by five places and scored four points in the triple jump.