Same place, two different roads to get there

Although both the Minnesota menâÄôs and womenâÄôs cross country teams earned automatic bids to todayâÄôs NCAA championship, the two teams have used very different means to get to Terre Haute, Ind. The No. 7 womenâÄôs program will stick to using its pack-running style that has helped them run to team titles at the Big Ten championship and the NCAA Midwest Region championship. The Gophers will compete for the fourth-straight time at the NCAA championship, where the team has finished in the top 12 in each of the past three seasons. Pack running has been the Gophers style all season, and thus far it has worked, Midwest Coach of the Year Gary Wilson said. âÄúThe kids can run better as a group than as individuals,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúItâÄôs kind of like having a teddy bear. You feel safe with each other.âÄù Meanwhile, the No. 12 Gophers menâÄôs team has found success riding high individual finishes from senior Chris Rombough and sophomore Hassan Mead. The high finish, low score performances by the duo bring down the team score. Having a low score from those two puts less pressure on the rest of the team, which stays in more of a pack, coach Steve Plasencia said. âÄúWeâÄôve just benefitted from having a couple of front runners who can get up there with some low scores,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúOur three through six runners were not so far apart.âÄù Competing in his fourth NCAA meet, Rombough will try to become MinnesotaâÄôs first three-time All-American after the Fremont, Wis. native finished 14th in 2006 and 29th last year. Mead, this yearâÄôs Midwest Runner of the Year, could possibly beat that mark in 2010, having placed 43rd at the event last year as a true freshman and looking for a âÄútop-20 finish individually.âÄù Aside from Mead and Rombough, the Gophers are relatively inexperienced at the NCAA championship; at least three of MinnesotaâÄôs runners this weekend will compete for the first time. Sophomore Mike McFarland and senior Ben Puhl are the only others who have experience; both competed for the first time last season. MinnesotaâÄôs best finish at the event came in 1968 when the Gophers finished fourth. Placensia wouldnâÄôt comment on beating that mark, but did say he thinks the team can improve on last yearâÄôs eighth-place finish. No matter the style, both coaches said they change their styles, not the athletes. âÄúEvery team has a different personality,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúYou have to coach through the personality. You canâÄôt change someone.âÄù