Men take second in Utah, women host intrasquad meet

Head coach Gary Wilson presents the second place team with “Charlie the Fish” on Saturday in Falcon Heights.

Jules Ameel

Head coach Gary Wilson presents the second place team with “Charlie the Fish” on Saturday in Falcon Heights.

Derek Wetmore

The menâÄôs cross country team opened its season Saturday in Provo, Utah without two of its top competitors, Hassan Mead and Ben Blankenship. They were outpaced by Brigham Young University by 21 points, but Minnesota finished comfortably ahead of the San Bernardino Valley College in the three-team meet. Senior Mike Torchia was the top finisher for the Gophers, taking fourth overall and third among collegians. Torchia was the leader of a team noticeably lacking Blankenship and Mead. Mead is still recovering from an injured Achilles tendon, but having him sit was merely precautionary. In early season meets, sometimes the team would opt to sit an elite runner like Mead anyway. Blankenship is a slightly different story. He ran for USA Track this summer, and head coach Steve Plasencia said he wanted to allow Blankenship more time to recover before competing in a long distance race. âÄúThey beat us on depth,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúThey definitely had better depth than we did.âÄù Behind Torchia was Pieter Gagnon, sixth place, Sean Olson (13), Andrew Larson (14) and Erik Truedson (15). Torchia and Gagnon are likely to make the top seven, but the final placements have not been decided. Plasencia said that the decisions will start at the top and hopefully be made in the coming weeks. He added that he âÄúwould like to be 95 percent certain by Griak [Invitational] as to what weâÄôre doing [with our roster].âÄù There is no hard-and-fast deadline as to when a final roster needs to be decided, but often times a team wonâÄôt waste a year of eligibility on a runner if they donâÄôt get to utilize a full season. Plasencia said that the latest he has ever gone before adding someone to the lineup is the conference championships. âÄúWe have a couple more question marks this year than in other years,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúIt starts at the top. We are not writing this season off, we want to run well.âÄù If Mead is going to be 100 percent, he will likely compete this season, but if not, the top seven will need to be shifted. âÄúIâÄôm one of those guys that doesnâÄôt want to make a decision until I have to,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúThis week and next week are about seeing what we have. Then weâÄôll assess it, and then weâÄôll try to come at Griak [on Sept. 25 ] with a full lineup.âÄù The Gophers will host the Oz Memorial next Friday at The University of Minnesota -Les Bolstad Golf Course. ItâÄôs the final tune-up prior to the Roy Griak Invitational. âÄúWe definitely need to improve, but IâÄôm hoping those other two guys will be back in the lineup,âÄù Plasencia said. Women host intrasquad race The women did not travel this weekend, and instead âÄúhostedâÄù an intrasquad scrimmage at Les Bolstad. Head coach Gary Wilson split the group into two teams âÄî maroon vs. gold âÄî and the two groups competed for the infamous âÄúCharley the fishâÄù trophy. The trophy actually goes to the losing team, and it has been a running joke since WilsonâÄôs 26-year tenure at Minnesota began. Official results donâÄôt mean much, but anyone watching the teams run the 5-kilometer course came away with two impressions. First, the team will rely heavily on some veteran leadership this year. Junior Steph Price came in first place in the meet, and senior Nikki Swenson finished second. In the midst of a youth movement, the team will leave heavily on those two. Look no further than third place to realize that this team is getting young in a hurry. Redshirt freshman Missa Varpress and true freshman Ashlie Decker finished third and fourth, respectively. âÄúIn high school, Missa was more of an 800-meter runner,âÄù assistant coach Sarah Hesser said, âÄúbut with a year of getting the bugs out, I think sheâÄôs ready to rock and roll.âÄù With runners like Megan Duwell, Heather Dorniden and Gabe Anderson graduating in recent years, the womenâÄôs team will rely on numerous true and redshirt freshmen. Of the teamâÄôs 49 members, 21 are either freshman or redshirt freshman, something that could be a boon to the program in years to come. âÄúIt was kind of by design,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúWe redshirted that whole class last year so we made sure we had a group coming up.âÄù