Cross country about more than individuals for Minn.

Juniors Elizabeth Yetzer, left, and Heather Dorniden run together at the Oz Memorial last season. Coach Gary Wilson said he continues to stress a team oriented attitude in his program.

Steve Maturen

Juniors Elizabeth Yetzer, left, and Heather Dorniden run together at the Oz Memorial last season. Coach Gary Wilson said he continues to stress a team oriented attitude in his program.

Judging by the performance of the Minnesota womenâÄôs cross country team this weekend, one can see whatâÄôs possible when a group of athletes work together: perfection. And stressing the team over the individual has always been a point of womenâÄôs coach Gary Wilson. âÄúRight from the beginning, I say, âÄòThis is the deal. If you like to run and you can bring some positives to this family, then weâÄôre going to be all right,âÄô âÄù Wilson said, adding that positives donâÄôt always mean athletic contributions. âÄúIt takes five positive people to overcome one negative person. If you have three to five people thinking the glass is half empty, youâÄôre in big trouble.âÄù Junior Heather Dorniden agrees that cross country is much more of a team sport than the casual observer would believe. âÄúI think thatâÄôs the way people perceive it, but in an actual race when you have people who are really close to you, wearing the same uniform as you, it really means a lot,âÄù Dorniden said. âÄúWe really focus on packing it up together and trying to run together as long as we can and those who survive through it will be our scorers in the end.âÄù In collegiate cross country, a team score is composed of its top five finishers. A first-place finish nets the team one point while a 35th-place finish gives it 35 points. Teams compete for the lowest score, with 15 being a perfect sweep of the top-five finishes as the Gophers did last weekend at the Oz Memorial Run. But Wilson stressed that the team is more than just those first five runners to cross the finish line. Wilson pointed to last yearâÄôs Big Ten championships when MinnesotaâÄôs sixth- through eighth-place finishers beat out Michigan StateâÄôs fifth runner, which allowed the Gophers to claim the conference title by a mere point over the Spartans. A strong finish by even a couple runners helps a teamâÄôs chances of a high finish, according to menâÄôs cross country senior Chris Rombough. The Fremont, Wis., native has paired well with another Gophers All-American âÄî sophomore Hassan Mead âÄî to become a driving force for the Gophers. âÄúHassan and I work together in workouts and work off each other during the race when weâÄôre in a pack,âÄù Rombough said. âÄú[A top-five finish] is really important; if Hassan and I can both place in the top five, then our top two finishes add up to less than five points. Then youâÄôre basically taking your scores from three runners instead of five.âÄù Rombough also added that staying in packs helps keep the team moving together. âÄúYou run a little more comfortable with your teammates around you,âÄù Rombough said. âÄúYouâÄôre working together and motivating each other.âÄù Rombough noticed such an instance last weekend at the Aztec Invitational after a long track season delayed the start of his cross country season. âÄúOur second through fourth finishes [sophomore Mike McFarland, sophomore transfer Ben Blankenship and redshirt freshman Sean Olson] all finished within five seconds of each other,âÄù Rombough said. The finish also caught the eye of menâÄôs coach Steve Plasencia, who was watching Olson and Blankenship run for the first time as Gophers. âÄúBoth Ben and Sean looked like guys who are going to help us later on in the season,âÄù Plasencia said.