GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The University of Florida track and field program opens its 2017 campaign Saturday, and recent history makes it difficult to expect anything other than another year of trophy-raising celebrations on infields and gator chomps atop championship podiums.
Florida’s men won their sixth national title since 2010—more than any other Division I team during that span—with a 62-point performance at last season’s NCAA Outdoor Championships.
The program’s latest title was perhaps its most impressive to date, given the fact it followed a seventh-place finish at NCAA Indoor Championships and a sixth-place finish at SEC Outdoor Championships.
Just two other teams since 1992 won an outdoor national title after finishing outside the top five indoors. Moreover, no team since at least 1965 took lower than fourth place at an outdoor conference meet and went on to win the national meet.
The title also marked the 15th time in the last 16 NCAA Championships the Gators placed third or higher. Although its run of 14 consecutive top-three finishes ended at NCAA Indoors, Florida’s phenomenal consistency both indoors and outdoors was something previously achieved by only Arkansas (1992-2000) and UTEP (1975-82).
Yes, the men lose three of the top quarter-milers to come through Gainesville, including Olympic gold medalist Arman Hall. Sure the Gators also lose three legs of their 4x100 relay team that took fourth place at the national meet. And the near-unprecedented success has to take a yearlong hiatus, right?
Anyone expecting a dip should consider the following, though: six returning Gators accounted for 39 of their 49 individual points scored at NCAA Outdoors.
That does not even include rising senior All-American half-milers Andres Arroyo and Ryan Scnhulle, neither of whom reached the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
While head coach Mike Holloway will tinker with numerous lineups in pursuit of last season’s 13 relay points (and another eight at NCAA Indoors), the USTFCCCA Coaches Hall of Fame’s newest inductee seemingly always develops the perfect combinations. Since 2003, Holloway’s first year as head coach, UF has scored in both the 4x100 and 4x400 relays at the same NCAA Outdoor Championships 10 times. The Gators totaled 13-plus points in seven of those instances.
Doubt these Gators at your own peril.
On the women’s side, a mix of returning NCAA scorers and immediate-impact newcomers should be exactly what Florida needs to return to the infield.
After finishing in the top four at three of the previous four national meets, the highly-touted Gators entered NCAA Indoors ranked No. 1. But they stumbled into a tie for 14th place. Outdoors, they tied for ninth nationally.
This group, however, returns seven of 10 individual NCAA Outdoor qualifiers, two other NCAA Indoor scorers, and welcomes two-time national champion Destinee Gause back from a redshirt season.
The Gators are set up to score points in nearly every discipline and a wide variety of events. A breakdown of UF’s returning NCAA qualifiers reveals three throwers, two sprinters, two jumpers, a distance runner, and a hurdler.
Additionally, half of the Gators’ 2016 SEC Outdoor title-winning 4x400 relay team returns, giving Holloway a pair of loaded relay pools.
So long as the women’s team can stay healthy, Gators should be competing and scoring points almost everywhere at both national and SEC meets.
Here’s a closer look at each of UF’s five disciplines entering the 2017 season.
As mentioned above, Arroyo and Schnulle headline UF’s contingent of distance runners on the men’s side.
UF’s other national meet qualifiers came in the short hurdles in the form of Skylar Ross-Ransom, an All-American in the 60-meter hurdles, and Yanick Hart, who collected All-America laurels in the 60- and 110-meter hurdles.
The short hurdle corps on both sides are filled out by seniors Marques Burgman, Caleb Chambliss, Ryann McEnany, and Moriel Pitt (outdoor only). And returning NCAA East Preliminary 400 hurdles qualifiers Mikayla Barber and Maurice Dix, and 100 hurdles qualifier Kimani Rushing are all eyeing the national meet this time around.