By JULIA WHEELEHAN
This weekend was the Sunshine State Conference (SSC) where UT’s men’s and women’s cross country teams raced. Overall, Spartan runners placed fourth in the competition out of nine schools.
The men’s team scored 89 points, placing them fourth, while the women’s cross country team beat them by one point, scoring 88, and placed third, tying them with Florida Southern College.
Brent Turner, a graduate student at UT, placed eleventh in men’s 8K race with a final time of 26:34.72, making him the fastest on campus.
Even before the race he wasn’t too concerned that Tampa wouldn’t succeed.
“I was really confident in myself and my guys. We had a really good strategy going in,” Turner said.
The course had its challenges, however. Turner said the course wasn’t hard and the challenge was dealing with the flat surface, which gets confusing.
Tyler Roberts, a sophomore, had his own difficulties with the course. “It was pretty hot and windy Saturday, which made for a tough head wind,” Roberts said. “The course got flooded the night before. The heat and course footing just made it hard to keep up and stick together as a team.”
Roberts, however, wasn’t new to running in tough conditions. “Growing up in Florida it definitely wasn’t my first time running a hot and wet race,” he mentioned. This showed, as he finished the course in 27:16.35 minutes.
Regardless of the challenges, both of the runners felt right at home during the race. “I love leading my guys, especially in my last conference meet ever,” Turner said. “I’m really confident in myself and my guys. Placing first for the team was definitely a good feeling. I’ve bounced around the top few guys, so finishing in first was definitely nice.”
“I felt very confident going into the race along with all the other boys on the team,” Roberts said. “The Sunday before we ran one of our best workouts all year which made us very confident.”
Sydney Rhodes, a freshman at UT, was especially eager to participate in her first SSC. “I’m happy I’m running at a higher level now.” Rhodes said. “My team is great here and it’s nice to run with girls at the same caliber.” Out of a total of 82 runners, Rhodes impressively finished 20th, with a final time of 24:21.33.
Going into the race, she admitted that she had a similar problem as Turner did. “It was a very mentally draining course with lots of loops, so it was difficult.”
“I never ran there before, it was my first time there… and I didn’t like the course because I don’t like doing loops multiple times,” said Monika Brill, a freshman. That didn’t show as she finished her race with a final time of 23:40.80, placing her in the top 15 runners, and top five for UT runners.
But the course aside, Rhodes was mentally prepared for this past weekend’s race. “I wasn’t too nervous, but I knew this race was important,” Rhodes said. “I didn’t exactly run the way I wanted to and knew I could’ve, but it wasn’t terrible. I just know I can do better next meet.”
Brill was in the same boat as Rhodes and vowed to do better.
“I’m using it as a learning experience.,” Brill said. “I’m hoping it sparks us up for regionals.”
With the next few races being big ones, NCAA South Regional and Championship races, it’s no surprise that all runners are looking towards the future.
“I’m hoping my season ends well, because [the SSC] was my first 6k and I want to improve my time,” Brill said. “Also, we all worked hard and I would love to see that pay off.”
“I do believe that we have a big opportunity to end this season on a strong note,” Roberts said. “Our top seven is one of the strongest it’s been in many years. We have the ability and talent to perform well at regionals to qualify for nationals. I’m very confident that we will bounce back stronger than we have. We have a strong group of guys that have a lot of heart so we will give it everything we got.”
Julia Wheelehan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org