GREENSBORO, N.C. - Two Gators earned trips to Eugene in their respective national semifinals on the first day of the NCAA East Preliminary Round, hosted by North Carolina A&T State University.
Junior distance runner Florence Ngetich (Eldama Ravine, Kenya) was outstanding in the women's 10,000 meters, finishing fourth overall in a new PR of 33:28.10. That time improves her standing at third all-time in Florida program history and Ngetich finished as the top SEC athlete in the field with the fastest time in the conference this season.
"Florence did as Coach Spangler laid out in her race plan," Florida head coach Mike Holloway said. "What we want all of our athletes to do is engage in the fight. This is a win or go home situation and she did a great job conducting herself out there. She's healthy and followed the race plan well."
Junior heptathlete Lorraine Graham (Springdale, Md.) finished fifth overall in the women's long jump, leaping 6.17m/20-3 (+1.6) to move on to the finals site in Oregon. The Gator junior will also look to advance in the women's 100-meter hurdles with preliminaries beginning at 5 p.m. Friday.
"I'm very excited for Lorraine to qualify for her first NCAAs," Holloway noted. "She's been doing the multi-events all year and now she gets to focus on just the long jump and the hurdles. I look forward to seeing her compete in the hurdles tomorrow."
12 Gators advanced out of their preliminary rounds Thursday, including eight women and four men. All six Gator quartermilers qualified to go along with a sprinter, two hurdlers and three mid-distance athletes.
On the men's side, Arman Hall (Pembroke Pines, Fla.), Hugh Graham, Jr. (Miami, Fla.) and Najee Glass (Woodbridge, N.J.) won their heats of the men's 400 meters to automatically qualify for Friday's quarters, going 4-5-6 overall. Hall was just .01 off his collegiate best with a time of 45.58. Graham, Jr. and Glass were right behind him in qualifying with times of 45.70 and 46.16.
2013 SEC Indoor titleholder Sean Obinwa (Tampa, Fla.) advanced in the men's 800 meters Thursday. The All-American junior finished with a time of 1:48.70 to qualifying for a spot in Friday's 7:15 p.m. quarterfinals with a trip to Eugene on the line.
For the women, it was the Miami trio of freshman Robin Reynolds (Miami, Fla.), junior Ebony Eutsey (Miami, Fla.) and junior Lanie Whittaker (Miami, Fla.) who all earned automatic qualifying times of 52.58, 52.61 and 52.66 to advance to Friday's action in Greensboro. All three Gators are also slated to run together as part of Florida's 4x400-meter relay.
All-Americans Cory McGee (Pass Christian, Miss.) and Agata Strausa (Riga, Latvia) advanced in the women's 1,500 meters, as McGee was the top overall qualifier in 4:17.39. Strausa also automatically qualified for Saturday's 6:30 p.m. quarterfinal with a time of 4:26.45.
In the hurdles, seniors Ugonna Ndu (Newark, N.J.) and Amani Bryant (Tampa, Fla.) qualified out of their respective preliminary heats. Ndu breezed through her heat in 58.02 while Bryant took the final automatic qualifying spot in her heat with a time of 58.44.
Also advancing on the women's side was junior Darshay Davis (Mirimar, Fla.), who ran a season's best 11.38 to advance to Friday's 6:30 p.m. quarterfinals, nabbing the last automatic qualifying spot in her heat.
"It was an up-and-down day for us but there were more ups than downs," Holloway commented. "I spoke to our athletes and challenged them to come out here the rest of the weekend and really stick their nose in there and compete. We still have a lot of great chances Friday and Saturday to qualify for Eugene. We are a team and we pick everyone up when they need it."
The Gators start the day Friday with Jayla Bostic (Wellington, Fla.) competing in the women's hammer at 10 a.m. The next Florida event is the women's 100-meter hurdles, featuring Ndu and Graham, at 5 p.m.
48 individual qualifiers and 24 relay teams from each region are competing at either the East or West Preliminary Rounds, as the qualifiers are then whittled down to 24 individuals and 12 relays who will advance to the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Ore., June 5-8. Florida was awarded 48 qualifiers (22 men, 26 women) for the NCAA East Preliminary Round.
The Gator men are the defending NCAA Outdoor Champions and have placed in the top three at the last four NCAA Outdoor Championships, while the Florida women recorded a third-place finish at the 2010 NCAA Outdoor Championships.