Iowa City will hold Big Ten meet

by David McCoy

Though one might think Minnesota’s men’s and women’s cross country teams have their sights set on winning their respective Big Ten Championship races Sunday in Iowa City, Iowa, this is not necessarily the case.

Wisconsin, ranked No. 1 nationally, is the favorite in the men’s race, having taken first every year since 1977, with only five exceptions. And No. 4 Michigan is the clear-cut women’s favorite, winning the title the last two years.

“Michigan will win this meet barring a catastrophe,” women’s coach Gary Wilson said. “They’d have to have about four kids get hurt.”

With that in mind, both Wilson and men’s coach Steve Plasencia said they want to see their teams run good, hard races and continue to progress.

“When the race is over, you know whether or not you’ve had a good race,” Plasencia said. “We want them to know they had a good race.”

The story of Wilson’s team this year has been progress, with three freshmen – Ladia Albertson-Junkans, Annie Yetzer and Katie Howery – making the trip to Iowa City.

As a walk-on, Howery took 29th place in the Pre-NCAA open race, 13th at the Iowa State 4K and eighth at the Oz Memorial.

Wilson said he’s been very happy with Howery’s progress.

“She’s one of those blue-collar kids,” Wilson said. “She just works hard and keeps her mouth shut.”

But the Gophers’ best example of hard work might be found in Sarah Hesser, who set a new personal-best time at the Pre-NCAA meet two weeks ago. Like Howery, Hesser began as a walk-on.

Now in her senior year, Hesser is finally getting her chance to run in the Big Ten Championship race.

Like the women, the men have a couple of solid additions as well.

With only three replacements, Minnesota’s men will be fielding a similar team to last year.

Interestingly, the senior, junior and freshman missing from last year will be replaced by a senior, junior and freshman this year.

Replacing Michael VanBeusekom – who as a freshman last year ran only three races – will be another freshman, Justin Grunewald, who was Minnesota’s fifth finisher in every race this year.

Erik Grumstrup, the junior from last year, will be replaced by Trent Riter. While he might not be as talented Grumstrup, who is redshirting this season, Riter placed 11th in the Olympic trials in the 800-meter track event.

Plasencia said Riter, who came on recently, was the last of his runners to make the cut.

And Luke Mullranin – who as a senior was Minnesota’s sixth finisher at the meet last year – will be replaced by All-American Andrew Carlson, who missed last season because of a hip injury.

After each taking sixth in the Big Ten race last year, the men’s and women’s teams are looking to move up.

“It’s going to be a battle,” men’s senior Ryan Ford said. “If we all have a really good race, I think second place is definitely our goal.”

With Michigan State as the favorite to take second in the women’s race, Wilson said he would like to see the Gophers take third. But with such a competitive conference, a sixth- or seventh-place finish is equally probable.

Plasencia said he agreed about the competitiveness of the conference, calling it the toughest in the nation.

“I’m not going to make any predictions, because it’s going to be a real wrestling match” Plasencia said. “But I’m confident these guys will do a good job.

“Like every Big Ten meet, it’s just a bloodbath.”