Cross country teams prepare for important Midwest Regional meets

by Aaron Blake

One season ago, Minnesota’s women’s cross country team advanced to the NCAA championships by finishing second in the Midwest Regional meet.

With four of the top five Gophers from that race returning, coach Gary Wilson’s squad looked to head into this year’s regional meet with similar personnel.

But then injuries came calling. Already lost from the big four are senior Anita Menden and sophomore Lisa Dyer. Junior Laura Bjork, who finished a disappointing 49th at the Big Ten championships, is still questionable for the meet on Nov. 16 in Normal, Ill.

Originally thought to have respiratory problems, Bjork was found to have been drinking too much water. By doing this, she diluted her electrolytes and salts.

“Now she’s drinking Gatorade and juices,” Wilson said. “All tests came up negative and now it’s just a matter of resting and getting up to above average.”

Without Bjork, the Gophers would be minus four of their top five finishers from last year’s regional meet. Only Darja Vasiljeva, who finished third at the Big Ten meet, would remain.

Regardless, the team must run an assortment of underclassmen, including freshmen Carly Emil, Jen Hess, Lauren Williams, and sophomores Paula Hoffert, Kimberly Magee and Zoe Nagell.

But don’t count out Minnesota when it comes to advancing to the NCAA meet.

In fact, the Gophers have qualified for the NCAA meets in each of the past five seasons. Part of this comes from expectations Wilson has instilled in his athletes.

“Unless you’re first, it’s not good enough,” Vasiljeva said. “You always have to hope and try to win, but you’ve also just got to do your best.”

Men stay relaxed

a disheartening fifth-place finish in the Big Ten championships on Nov. 3 doesn’t have Minnesota men’s cross country coach Steve Plasencia worried.

Heading into the NCAA Midwest Regional meet on Nov. 16 in Normal, Ill., Plasencia has reason to remain optimistic.

“We’ve been rated No. 1 in our region all year long,” Plasencia said. “We just need a solid performance all down the line. Nobody needs to jump out of their skin.”

Although Plasencia isn’t putting the onus on his team to repeat as Midwest champions, he does think his athletes should qualify for the NCAA championships by finishing first or second.

This subtle confidence is

well-justified. As the defending regional champions, the Gophers have advanced from the Midwest to the NCAA championships five consecutive years.

In addition, Plasencia says his athletes train on the long side, which is better suited for the Midwest Regional than the Big Ten championships. All said, the team is intent on the races that really matter.

“To change anything would be a big mistake,” senior Toby Henkels said. “The stress (in practice) has been on doing things the way we’ve been doing them.

“We’ve just got to race like we’ve got to take what’s ours.”

Plasencia pointed to Henkels’ teammate, senior Neil Hanson, as a pivotal runner for the regional meet.

Hanson finished third for the Gophers at the Roy Griak Invitational earlier this year. But he has been forced to deal with a torn muscle in his back, which translated to a lost week of practice.

In addition, Plasencia says sophomore Erik Grumstrup has been a bit over-trained at this point and his Big Ten performance wasn’t one of his best showings.

“I’m not going to pick on anybody,” Plasencia said. “But overall, we could all run a lot better.”

Aaron Blake welcomes comments at [email protected]