Friday night the University of Florida men won the NCAA Track and Field Championship in nail-biting fashion.
Throughout the meet the Gators were locked into a fight with Texas A&M who beat them by just half a point at the NCAA Indoor Championship earlier this year. This time it was their turn to win by a small margin.
Over the course of both days of the meet, Florida had a variety of stars. But their success all started with freshman sensation Grant Holloway and junior KeAndre Bates. Holloway, a four-star football recruit out of high school who decided to focus on track, and Bates started their events on Wednesday with the long jump. After a back and forth competition, Bates took first and Holloway took second.
On Friday, the pair stayed busy and successful. Bates had the triple jump where he won a tight competition and Holloway had a full slate consisting of the 110m hurdles and the anchor leg in the 4x400m. In the hurdles, Holloway glided over the hurdles and picked up another ten points for Florida with his first place finish.
“I turned off my brain and just ran,” recounted Holoway. “I just execute. Whenever I start to think, that’s when things go left. “
Going into the event the final event the Gators were up seven points on the Aggies. The Aggies had the fastest relay team at this distance of the year and for them to win they would need to win and hope Florida finished outside of the top five.
Texas A&M runners jockeyed between first and second over the course of the first three runners and 400m champion Fred Kerley received the baton in second place. He patiently waited and with 250 meters to go he surged to the front and never looked back.
But the real race was about if Florida would be able to finish in the top five and secure their championship. Holloway got the baton and sped his way to a 43.89 lap that landed the team in fourth place and cemented their national championship victory.
“I’ve been running track and field since, I probably would say, since I could walk,” said Holloway. “So you know it was a wonderful experience to be able to come out here and help the team out as a youngin’.”
One race that especially impacted the final result turned out to be the 400m hurdles. Florida’s Eric Futch edged out UCLA’s Rai Benjamin at the line to win by one hundredth of a second but the bigger impact happened at the halfway mark of the race. Running from lane two, Texas A&M’s Robert Grant clipped a hurdle and fell hard onto the track. At the point of his fall he was in the middle of the pack but his fall dropped him to an eighth place finish.
Florida picked up additional points in the 800 where Andres Arroyo finished fifth and in the high jump where Jhonny Victor finished seventh.
Outside of the team competition, the day belonged to Tennessee’s sprinter Christian Coleman. After setting the collegiate record in the 100m on Wednesday, Coleman came back today and won both the 100m and 200m on Friday.
“You had some great guys in both fields. I was just locked in, focused ready to execute in both [races],” said Coleman. “I’m happy to be done.”
The other big race of the day came in the 1500. This race featured New Mexico’s Josh Kerr and Ole Miss’ Craig Engels. Engels, and his notorious flowing mullet and mustache combo, believed that this was going to be his race.
“With 300 [meters] to go I thought I was going to win it. In my head I’m like, ‘I got this, I’m going to be a national champion,’” said Engels. “200 to go I was like, ‘I still got this.’ 100 to go I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m not catching him.’”
Kerr ended up with the victory and Justine Kiprotich passed Engels at the line to finish second.
“We can all kick. That’s the hardest part of those races, everyone is still in the race [at the end],” said Kerr. “Exciting for the crowd but not as much for me.”
For the men of Oregon, the day went as predicted but was not what they wanted. Senior Kyree King ended his UO career with a pair of fourth place finishes in the 100m and 200m. Senior Marcus Chambers finished sixth in the 400m, the 4 x 100m team took sixth in the relay and after getting tripped up Blake Haney finished eleventh in the 1500m.
Tomorrow the women are back on the track with Oregon looking to lock down the championship.