It might seem safe to assume that when the Gophers women’s cross country team travels to an event hosted by a Division II school, the weekend will be low-key.
That’s far from this case. For some Minnesota runners, this weekend is huge. A strong performance at this weekend’s UW-Eau Claire Blugold Invite in Eau Claire, Wis., could help solidify a spot on the team for the Wisconsin-Adidas Invitational in Madison, Wis., in early October.
If a runner scores well at the Adidas Invitational, she’s likely to make the nine-woman roster that competes at the Big Ten championships in late October.
“I would guess that there’s about 10 kids that absolutely for sure would go,” head coach Gary Wilson said. He said last weekend’s race at South Dakota State and the Eau Claire meet will likely determine the final-four spots.
“It’s kind of our second pack, back from the top-12, but I think we can have a really strong front presence this weekend,” junior Cassy Opitz said. She said the team’s depth will be an asset as it competes without its top runners.
All of the runners that ran last weekend at the SDSU Classic will not run this weekend in Eau Claire. This opens the door for runners Wilson described as “on the bubble” to run a good race and solidify their spot on the team for Wisconsin.
“If you don’t go to Wisconsin, the odds of making the Big Ten team are slim and none,” Wilson said.
For the Gophers’ top-10 runners, this weekend will serve as an early season checkpoint, a chance to cure any ailments and time to prepare for the Roy Griak Invitational.
“You’ve got to kind of keep your foot on the gas and your foot on the brake all at the same time,” Wilson said. “You’ve got to know when to push and when to go, ‘OK, I’ve got to back off here a little bit.’”
While being on the bubble could be perceived as a bad thing, senior Kathryn Ritter said she embraces the chance to earn a spot on the top group.
“It definitely adds more pressure in races, but it’s the good kind of pressure,” Ritter said, “where you know that performing your best and performing well in a race can mean that you’re able to jump up to the next group and maybe make the next travel meet.”
Ritter said having a solid group of women on the bubble helps the team because the runners are always pushing each other.