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The Mission Continues Florida Gators Track and Field 2019 Season Preview

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Death, taxes, and Florida Track and Field winning championships. It may not be the original expression, but if we treated old adages like smartphones, the Gators’ stockpile of trophies from the last decade would be evidence enough the phrase required an update.

Every year since 2009, Florida’s won at least one conference or national title. The running 10-year total? Eighteen. Yes, 18.

The Gators celebrated three championships in 2018, capturing their Division I-leading eighth men's NCAA crown since 2010 and sweeping the SEC Outdoor Championships for the first time in program history. And while there are no guarantees in sports, while even sensible and well-researched predictions often go awry, expecting Florida’s string of victories to suddenly snap this year is simply illogical.

There is a different air around this year’s team, though. Or perhaps more accurately, the spotlight is pointed in a different direction, with Florida’s women taking center stage and stepping out of the long shadow cast by the men’s team.

That’s no slight to Florida’s men, No. 2 in the preseason indoor rankings. It’s just that, as head coach Mike Holloway often says, the men are who they are. They have one of the best all-around athletes in collegiate history, as four-time national champion Grant Holloway delayed a professional career and returned for his junior season. They have three of the nation’s best hammer throwers, along with an array of veteran sprinters, jumpers, and hurdlers ready to climb the national rankings and, once again, put the Gators in the trophy hunt.

Variations of such dialogue have taken place over the last decade, making this year impressively ordinary (pardon the oxymoron) for the men.

The Gators' women, who sit at No. 6 in the indoor preseason rankings, lost a trio of impactful seniors, but two rising seniors set to fill those leadership vacancies are national title contenders.

Lloydricia Cameron and Darrielle McQueen (top left, bottom) were fixtures for the Gators the last four years, while Avione Allgood (top right) transferred in and captured an SEC title as a sixth-year senior.

Yanis David is the top returning long jumper and triple jumper in the country. Sharrika Barnett ranks second among all returners in the 400 meters. Both lead by example, with David adding a cannonball splash of personality.

All the pieces of a school record-breaking 4x400 relay are back. Sophomore multis athlete Amanda Froeynes thrust herself into the mix for NCAA points immediately, finishing fifth outdoors and ninth indoors. With half of last year’s top six graduating, she is likely to score even higher this year. Redshirt junior Jessica Pascoe, who broke a school record and posted a top-15 national time last month, leads a revitalized distance corps which could be Florida’s wild card come championship season. Add in a pair of junior college transfer jumpers who, on paper, are likely to make an immediate impact, and you have all the makings of a national title contender.

Pascoe (far left) led the women's cross country team to 16th place at NCAAs last November, a year after the program finished 22nd in its own region.

To be clear, this will not be an arrival for Florida’s women. They’ve been knocking on the door to national prominence for the better part of a decade. They’ve won five SEC titles since 2009. They finished fourth at NCAA Indoor Championships last year--their sixth national top-four finish since 2010--and fifth at each of the last two NCAA Outdoor Championships.

They’ve proven they belong in any and all championship conversations. They’ve been there all along, lurking in the immense shadow cast by a men’s team on a dynastic run.

This season, though, Florida’s women can step to the forefront and put a historically successful men’s program in their shadow.

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Below is a season preview of 2019 Florida's track and field program, broken down by discipline.

Distance

Returning SEC Scorers: Sam Ahrenholz (eighth – 1,500 meters), Elisabeth Bergh (third – 1,500 meters; fourth – mile), Jack Guyton (fourth – 1,500 meters; fifth – mile), Kyren Hollis (fourth – outdoor 800 meters), Jessica Pascoe (seventh – 10,000 meters)

From left to right: Ahrenholz, Bergh, Guyton, Hollis, Pascoe.

Newcomers to Watch: Imogen Barrett (800 meters; mile; 1,500 meters), Trevor Foley (3,000 meters; 5,000 meters; 10,000 meters), Gabrielle Wilkinson (800 meters)

Barrett (top) and Wilkinson (bottom).

The women’s distance group as a whole could be the X-factor that puts Florida over the top at championship meets, especially following its miraculous cross country turnaround under second-year assistant coach Chris Solinsky.

Florida’s distance corps made tremendous strides forward in 2018, scoring 21 points in a clean sweep of the team titles at SEC Outdoor Championships. Returning runners also broke 29 indoor and outdoor personal records last season, and Pascoe opened her redshirt junior year last month with a takedown of an eight-year-old 5,000 meters school record… by a whopping 25 seconds.

Pascoe is now the SEC favorite in the women’s 5,000 meters, and she can contend for podium finishes in either the mile or 3,000 meters at SEC Indoors, depending on which of those events she opts for. Come outdoors, the 5k will likely be her premier race, though she finished seventh in the 10k at SEC Outdoors last year, despite no previous experience at the distance.

Pascoe won the SEC cross country title and garnered All-America honors this past fall.

Bergh is the SEC’s top returner in the 1,500 meters, while the trio of Barrett, Morgan Hull and Caitlin McQuilkin-Bell all have the potential to make an impact at SECs following their outstanding cross country seasons.

All four members of Florida’s DMR team—Ahrenholz, Hollis, Justin Pacifico, Guyton—are back and should once again vie for an NCAA Indoors berth at the JDL Invitational. (They missed qualifying by two seconds last season.)

Wilkinson was one of the nation’s top middle distance recruits and should be in the hunt for berths to both NCAA meets.

The freshman to keep an eye on for the men is Foley, a Tampa native who won three state titles and capped his prep career with a bronze medal in the 10,000 meters at USATF Junior Championships.

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Hurdles

Returning NCAA Scorers: Grant Holloway (champion – 60-meter hurdles; 110-meter hurdles), Nikki Stephens (sixth – 400-meter hurdles)

Returning NCAA Qualifiers: Brandee’ Johnson (400 hurdles), Cory Poole (110 hurdles; 400 hurdles)

Returning SEC Scorers: Holloway (champion – 60 hurdles; 110 hurdles), Johnson (third – 400 hurdles), Poole (third – 400 hurdles; fourth – 110 hurdles)

Everyone knows Holloway, the 60-meter hurdles collegiate record holder and second-fastest collegian in history in the 110-meter hurdles. He’s back and primed for what could be an incredible finale.

While a number of last year’s stars turned professional, Holloway chose to return for his junior season, and he made it known the 110 hurdles collegiate record was a major factor in that decision. Holloway could make more history defending his national titles as well. A win outdoors would join him with Jack Davis (1951-53) as the only three-time national champion in the high hurdles, while a win indoors will make him the first-ever three-time 60 hurdles NCAA champ.

Holloway, already one of two men in history to repeat as NCAA champ in the indoor and outdoor high hurdles, will get competition from LSU sophomore Damion Thomas.

However, this group is about much more than its main star.

Poole caught fire outdoors, becoming only the third Division I freshman since 2002 to qualify for NCAA Outdoors in both the 110 and 400-meter hurdles. There is room for Poole to make major headway nationally in the 400 hurdles, as the nation’s top four finishers from last season all departed.

Poole is the No. 2 returner within the SEC as well.

Stephens is Florida’s top returning women’s hurdler, an impressive statement considering she made the transition to what is now her main event midway through last season.

Stephens was one of two freshmen in last year’s 400 hurdles final at NCAA Outdoors, and the attrition of five of the other seven finalists sets her up to contend for significant points.

Johnson barely missed the NCAA final—she actually had the eighth-fastest overall time in the prelims—and will be hungry to score her first individual points at a national meet. The Virginian is a breakout candidate in the high hurdles as well, as she cracked the program’s all-time top 10 lists in the 60 and 100 hurdles last year.

Johnson is set to end her NCAA scoring slump.

Timetria Mitchell rounds out the notable returnees, as she ranks No 6 on UF’s 60 hurdles all-time top 10.

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Jumps

Returning NCAA Scorers: Clayton Brown (fourth – indoor triple jump; eighth – outdoor triple jump), Yanis David (second – indoor triple jump; second – outdoor triple jump; fourth – indoor long jump; fourth – outdoor long jump), Grant Holloway (second – indoor long jump), Jhonny Victor (eighth – outdoor high jump)

From top to bottom: Brown, David, Holloway, Victor.

Returning NCAA Qualifiers: Brown (outdoor high jump); Holloway (outdoor long jump)

Returning SEC Scorers: Brown (champion – indoor triple jump; second – outdoor high jump; second – outdoor triple jump; tied fifth – indoor high jump), David (second – indoor triple jump; second – outdoor triple jump; second – outdoor long jump; fourth – indoor long jump), Mike Harris (eighth – indoor pole vault), Holloway (champion – outdoor long jump; fourth – indoor long jump), Victor (fourth – indoor high jump; fifth – outdoor high jump)

Newcomers to Watch: Natricia Hooper (triple jump), Kala Penn (long jump; triple jump)

The bulk of Florida’s points at the national level are expected to come from this group, especially on the women’s side.

David (pictured) is the biggest beneficiary of indoor and outdoor triple jump collegiate record holder Keturah Orji finally exhausting her eligibility. David has been runner-up at three of the last four NCAA meets, finishing behind Orji each time.

With Orji gone and another pair of Georgia long jumpers departing, David is the NCAA’s top returner in both the long jump and triple jump. Titles in those events would make Florida a serious player in the team national championship conversation.

She will most definitely be one of the nation's brightest personalities as well.

The addition of junior college transfers Hooper and Penn give the Gators two more instant contributors at the SEC level, as well as two jumpers who will challenge for berths at NCAA meets.

For the men, Holloway has a pair of NCAA runner-up finishes and an SEC Outdoor title on his resume, making him the nation’s top returning long jumper.

Brown is hoping to make this year a little less dramatic, as he qualified for NCAA Indoors and won his first SEC title on what would have been his final triple jump of the regular season. He then found himself one jump away from missing the final before popping a season best to finish fourth nationally. Outdoors, he was once again on the verge of missing the final at SECs before posting the meet’s second-place mark.

While Brown attempted to double in the high jump and triple jump at nationals his first two seasons, the junior will likely focus on whichever event he ranks higher in come NCAAs this time around.

Victor, who has scored at each of the last two NCAA Outdoor meets, has the potential to offset Brown giving up the difficult double.

Harris continues to improve in the pole vault, and while he is unlikely to be a player nationally, he can contribute at the SEC meets, where the Gators need all the points they can get.

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Multis

Returning NCAA Scorers: Amanda Froeynes (fifth – heptathlon)

Returning NCAA Qualifiers: Froeynes (pentathlon)

Returning SEC Scorers: Froeynes (third – heptathlon; third – pentathlon); Nikki Stephens (seventh – pentathlon)

Froeynes is a rising star in the multis and will challenge Florida’s school records as a sophomore.

In her debut season, Froeynes finished 37 points (an incredibly thin margin) out of eighth place in the pentathlon at NCAA Indoors. The Norwegian’s progression continued through the outdoor circuit, as she ended the year with a fifth-place finish at NCAAs, making Froeynes the third freshman since 2014 to score at the meet.

Three of the top six finishers from NCAA Outdoors are gone, including last year’s national champion. Ditto for the top six from NCAA Indoors. That gives Froeynes an incredible opportunity to contribute even more points than she did a year ago.

Stephens’ transition to the 400 hurdles (and the 400 meters indoors) knocks her out of this group, but redshirt freshman Kristine Akervold, also a Norwegian, will try to get herself in the mix for SEC points.

(If you really want to know how grueling this event is, check out this visual story which takes you inside Froeynes’ fifth-place finish at last year’s NCAA Outdoors.)

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Sprints & Relays

Returning NCAA Scorers: Sharrika Barnett (fourth – outdoor 400 meters; fourth – indoor 400 meters)

Returning NCAA Qualifiers: Ryan Clark (100 meters; outdoor 200 meters), Taylor Manson (outdoor 400m), Chantz Sawyers (outdoor 400m)

Returning SEC Scorers: Barnett (champion – outdoor 400m; third – indoor 400m), Clark (eighth – 100m), Kunle Fasasi (sixth – indoor 400m), Manson (fifth – outdoor 400m; sixth – indoor 400m), Hakim Sani Brown (sixth – 60 meters), Sawyers (fourth – outdoor 400m)

Newcomers to Watch: Doneisha Anderson (400m), Shakira Dancy (200m, 400m), Raymond Ekevwo (100m, 200m)

Florida’s sprints contingent was unusually light at last year’s NCAA Indoor Championships, which featured some of the fastest fields in history. Just four Gators qualified for NCAA Outdoors in the open sprints. And only Barnett made a final in an open sprints event at either national meet.

Do not expect the same this year.

For starters, the men’s quarter-milers were knocking on the door all last season. Sawyers finished three spots out of the NCAA Outdoors final, arguably the fastest in history. Fasasi and sophomore Benjamin Lobo Vedel were four and six spots, respectively, out of qualifying for NCAA Indoors. Fasasi, now a senior, also missed qualifying for NCAA Outdoors by just two spots.

Sawyers' constant improvement throughout his freshman season have many, including himself, fired up for what he has in store this year.

Those three, along with Holloway, combined for the third-fastest indoor 4x400 relay time in the sport’s history last year. Outdoors, the group was fourth at nationally. If everyone stays healthy, the chatter surrounding three minutes flat will undoubtedly resume.

After a year of blistering times without a championship to show for it, the Gators' 4x400 relay squad returns in its entirety and have their eyes on titles this year.

The men’s 4x100 relay team has championship talent as well. Three of the four legs from last year’s third-place team—Clark, Holloway, Sawyers—are back. Sophomore Hakim Sani Brown, a world-class talent who battled injury for much of 2018, and transfer Raymond Ekevwo are expected to fill the only void. The two may even be fast enough to bump a returner off.

The women return the SEC Outdoors 400 champion in Barnett, along with a dynamic sidekick in Manson, who punctuated a standout freshman season with a pair of medals at the IAAF World U20 Championships.

Nationally, two of the four women who finished ahead of Barnett at NCAA Indoors and Outdoors are gone. Enter another major opportunity.

Those two, hurdler Brandee’ Johnson, and sophomore Lauryn Ghee broke the indoor 4x400 relay school record last year en route to a third-place finish at NCAAs. The outdoor squad of Barnett, Manson, and hurdler Nikki Stephens will need a fourth member. A healthy Ghee, freshman Shakira Dancy, or January enrollee Doneisha Anderson are likely to slide in and keep the Gators in stride.

It is shaping up to be a fast year on the track for Gators sprinters.

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Throws

Returning NCAA Scorers: Anders Eriksson (second – hammer throw), Thomas Mardal (seventh – hammer throw), AJ McFarland (eighth – hammer throw)

Returning NCAA Qualifiers: Mardal (weight throw), McFarland (weight throw)

Returning SEC Scorers: Connor Bandel (fifth – outdoor shot put), Eriksson (second – hammer; fifth – weight), Mardal (fourth – weight; fifth – hammer), McFarland (third – weight; sixth – hammer)

Newcomer to Watch: Kristina Moore (discus throw)

The hammer trio is back. Eriksson, Mardal, and McFarland are now the undisputed top three hammer throwers in school history, and the three combined for 11 points at last year’s NCAA Outdoors.

While the group is easily the strongest on any team in the country, only one of the top 12 finishers at last year’s national meet exhausted their eligibility, meaning fans of the hammer are in for another historic year. The Gators’ trio will most definitely be in the middle of it all.

The three will also be contending for points in the weight throw, an event Mardal and McFarland nearly scored in a year ago.

Bandel will be a redshirt sophomore this season, and he will compete both indoors and outdoors for the first time in his collegiate career. The Oxford, Mich., native showed promise last year with a fifth-place finish in the shot put at SEC Outdoors.

An intriguing freshman for the Gators is Kristina Moore, an Australian discus thrower who also averages 23 minutes per game at forward for Florida’s basketball team. Moore topped out at 51.53 meters in high school, immediately putting her in the mix for points at SEC Outdoors.

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Florida opens its 2019 season Friday and Saturday at the Clemson Invitational and Hokie Invitational.

Photos by: Tim Casey (UAA Communications), Alex de la Osa (UAA Communications), Loren Elliott (for UAA Communications), Adler Garfield (UAA Communications), MJ Holloway, Carly Mackler (UAA Communications), Walt Middleton (for UAA Communications), Courtney Mims (UAA Communications), Donald Page (for UAA Communications), Cheryl Treworgy (Pretty Sporty Photo), Cat Wofford

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