Women eye top four with strong team performance

by Ryan Schuster

After an entire year of being hampered by nagging injuries, the Gophers women’s cross country team is finally healthy — just in time for their biggest meet of the season.
On Saturday the Gophers will run at the District IV Cross Country Championships in Champaign, Ill., in what could be their last competition of the year unless they place high enough to go to the NCAAs.
“We’ve got to be no less than fourth to have an outside chance of going to nationals,” Coach Gary Wilson said. “We haven’t all ran on all cylinders at the same time this season. If we can all hit on the same day we can do that.”
The Gophers were upset after taking fifth as a team at the Big Ten Championships two weeks ago. Minnesota was aiming for a fourth-place finish but was once again troubled by physical ailments.
Sophomore Anna Gullingsrud, the Big Ten Cross Country Athlete of the Month in September, suffered from bronchitis during the race and finished a disappointing 28th overall and third on the team. Gullingsrud has been Minnesota’s top runner all season.
“It was really disappointing because I know what I can do,” Gullingsrud said. “I just happened to be sick that day. I’ll just have to get it done on Saturday. We’re all pretty up about this thing.”
One runner who starred for the Gophers at Big Tens was junior Kari Thompson. She led the team with a 14th overall finish in 18 minutes, 29 seconds on the 5,000-meter course, which got her second-team All-Big Ten honors. Freshman Minna Haronoja took 21st overall and second on the team for Minnesota.
The Gophers will run their top seven harriers this weekend in Illinois, down from the nine they ran at Big Tens. Besides Gullingsrud, Thompson and Haronoja, sophomores Amy Hoel and Julie Golla, junior Andrea Lentz and senior Karen Kleindl will also compete this weekend.
Even though the Gophers suffered through a tough race two weeks ago, Wilson said they have kept their composure and are ready for regionals.
Minnesota will go to Champaign seeded eighth out of over 40 schools. There will be more than 250 runners crowding the golf course, making it imperative that the Gophers start strong if they have aspirations of going to the NCAA Cross Country Championships on Nov. 25 in Tucson, Ariz.
The top two teams in each of the eight regions automatically advance to nationals, as do the top three runners who are not on one of the top two teams. After that, the NCAA gives at-large bids to the final six teams in the nation, rounding out the 22 team field.
It will take Minnesota’s best performance of the season for the team to make it to nationals, but that is a possibility given the team’s talent and potential.
“Nobody is going south mentally,” Wilson said. “We have to regroup and go back after it at regionals. Were not out of it by any means. We just have to take care of business.”