After finishing 14th at last season’s Roy Griak Invitational, Minnesota cross country coach Steve Plasencia voiced concern about the state of his team.
Though discouraged by the 1999 Griak performance, Plasencia guided his troops to a third-place finish in the Big Ten, first-place in NCAA district five, and 15th in the country.
Still, the sour taste of the Griak had Plasencia tweaking his team’s training regimen in an effort to improve results this year.
On Saturday, Plasencia’s efforts resulted in a minor standings improvement, a 12th place finish for the Gophers in the men’s Division I gold race, but a similar state of concern.
“I hope that I’ve found the answer for late season meets,” Plasencia said. “Because I certainly haven’t found the answer for early season meets.
“Last year we dropped precipitously after this meet, then scratched and climbed our way back up there. We’ll have to do that again. There’s no counting on that, but we’re not at an irredeemable point.”
Sophomore Will McComb, bothered by a nagging cold, turned in a personal best time as Minnesota’s top finisher at No. 29, with junior Joe Corr (45) nine seconds behind. In all, seven of 10 Gophers runners who started the race contributed to the team score, with five setting new personal best times.
Like his coach, McComb found the Griak experience to be uneventful, if not somewhat melancholy.
“I wasn’t extremely pleased,” McComb said. “I’m not happy about it, but I’m not disappointed in myself either. I ran a half-decent time on a tough course.”
Plasencia counted McComb’s performance — along with Corr and sophomore Luke Mullranin (69) — among those he found solid.
Sophomore Neil Hanson, plagued with a bad back, gutted out a No. 121 finish.
“Hanson had cramps in his back,” Plasencia said. “He said his back tightened up big-time, and you could just see him sitting down (while running). He was our fifth man and I expected him to be up higher.”
Plasencia blamed Hanson’s aching back on the high training volume being experienced by the runners, an output that Corr says is necessary.
“At this time of the year we’re not easing up on the training, so you’re going to feel it,” Corr said. “But that just makes you stronger later.”
Plasencia now turns his attention to the remainder of the cross country season, with a eye on making his team stronger physically and mentally. Specifically the latter, as Plasencia hopes the team finds its identity quickly.
“I think we all know we’re a strong team, so let’s get there,” Plasencia said. “We can’t wait for that point in the season to come.”
For now, its another tough meet from which the hosts must regroup.
“If I were another team, I don’t know if I’d come to this meet if I made the schedule myself,” Plasencia said. “But we have this great invitational here, so we run it. I think I have to do a little better job in redesigning how we approach this, so we can come out of this a little more confident.”
David La Vaque welcomes comments at [email protected]