By Denise Spann, Florida MileSplit Correspondent
The men of the University of Florida have won nine national championships within the last decade.
They're constantly competitive in the SEC and have established themselves as an in-state powerhouse with commitments from the state's best.
The Gators are continuing this tradition in 2021, with their entire distance class representing the state of Florida: Satellite's Joe Wester, Fort Lauderdale's Michael Fiore, Belen Jesuit's Javier Vento, Saint Andrew's Matthew Mulé and Oviedo's Samuel Austin.
This group of five are among the best distance runners in the nation, leading the state in their respective ranges.
As UF looks to build up their distance program under the guidance of Chris Solinsky, former 10,000m American record holder, the impact of these incoming commits could be special.
Only entering the running scene in 2018, within his first season Austin ran sub-1:57 and hasn't looked back since.
Currently, Austin is in the best season of his life. At the VA Showcase, the Oviedo senior won the 800m in 1:53.30 for a new personal best, US No. 1 and No. 4 mark all-time in state history - only a few spots behind fellow Gator, Andres Arroyo. He also ran 1:04.80 in the 500m for a top-five finish and US No. 5 performance.
His 800m effort would've been a top-three performance for the Gators in 2019 and 2020. Also, with the graduation of UF's No. 1 800m runner, Flagler Palm Coast alum Justin Pacifico, the event could use some fresh new talent.
With outdoor PRs of 48.66 (400m), 1:54.59 (800m) and 4:21.20 (1600m), Austin is well on his way to major milestones come his outdoor season debut.
Vento earned his second 3A XC statechampionship this year, running 15:22.20 to secure the title. The Belen Jesuit senior ran sub-15:40 six times this season, including his new best of 15:21 to win Pre-State for a top-10 statewide effort.
However, the two-time 3A XC state champion leads this class in the 1600m.
Pre-pandemic, Vento ran 4:11.20 for an eight second PR and US No. 7 mark. He also owns strong PRs of 9:15.81 (3200m) and 1:58.28 (800m).
Vento has yet to debut this outdoor season, but if he can start where he left off last year, he'll be a dominating force in 3A.
At the Astronaut Pre-Season Classic, Wester debuted in the 800m with a state and nation leading time of 1:54.16. Similar to Austin, the new personal best could have been the third fastest outdoor performance for the Gators in 2019.
The Satellite senior also had strong performances at the VA Showcase with a US top-30 performance in the 1600m (4:20.03) and US top-25 effort in the mile (4:21.94).
Out of this incoming class, Wester leads in the 3200m and 5K.
The senior ran 9:09.69 over 3200m for US No. 18 in October, went on to finish fifth at the 2A XC State Championships, and ran 15:03.10 at the Running Lane National XC Championships for a PR by over 30 seconds.
Mulé is the most recent addition to UF's incoming distance class.
The Saint Andrew's senior is also in the middle of his breakout year. Mulé took second at the FHSAA 2A Cross Country State Championships, improving off his top-40 finish in 2019. Other cross country season highlights would include being named Palm Beach Boys Runner of the Year, his 15:29.26 (FL No. 12) regional championship effort and top-three finish at Pre-State.
Heading into the 2020 cross country season, Fiore was a state championship favorite, but due to impeding circumstances of the pandemic he was left out of the state series. The senior still ran one of the state's fastest 5Ks to win the Tri-County Championship (FL No. 9), with a time that could have also won him the 4A state title (15:22.30).
In his recent second-place finish to Mule, Fiore ran a new PR of 4:18.19 to rise to US No. 3 and officially start his outdoor campaign.
Like his peers he can run anything from 800m to 5K, with PRs of 1:56.63 (800m), 4:02.90 (1500m) and 9:13.56 (3200m).
This outdoor season is his best and final chance to finish at the top of the podium. In 2019, the Fort Lauderdale senior finished 7th in the 1600m and 8th in the 3200m.
But based on his current performance, Fiore is undoubtedly again a state championship favorite and a strong pick for the Gators.
The common thread
While each of these five athletes differ in experiences, their range and dominance tie them together as a strong group of incoming freshmen.
However, the main thing this group has in common will be their need to adapt to college training and racing. As elite as they are in high school, college track always comes with a grace period full of adapting, learning and properly executing.
In just three seasons, Solinsky has been able to transform his male distance runners into athletes unrecognizable to their high school selves - but it takes time.
As long as this group continues to reach new peaks, while preparing themselves to rise to the occasion that is UF Cross Country and Track and Field; they could be the class that puts Gator distance back on the map.