Cross country rolls to first, makes NCAA

by Jim Schortemeyer

After a sluggish start to its season, the Minnesota men’s cross country team is finishing strong. The Gophers plowed through the NCAA District V field Saturday to cruise into the NCAA championships next Monday in Bloomington, Ind.
“I’ve believed all along in this team,” coach Steve Plasencia said. “We did get off to a rough start and that sort of shook our confidence.”
Minnesota wobbled to a 14th-place finish at the Roy Griak Invitational — a race held in September at the Les Bolstad Golf Course in St. Paul. After that poor showing, senior Jeremy Polson dropped his redshirt and returned to the lineup.
The team perked up two weeks ago with a third-place finish at the Big Ten championships. The solid showing earned Minnesota a No.1 seed for the District V qualifying race Saturday in Champaign, Ill.
A fleet of Gophers runners finished in the top 15 Saturday. Senior Eric Pierce placed third on the 10-kilometer course. Sophomores Andrew McKessock and Joey Corr finished ninth and 10th, respectively. Polson took 15th place.
“We knew we were in a position to get some guys up there,” Plasencia said. “We were rated No. 1 coming in, and I really like the chemistry on the team.”
Noticeably absent from the Minnesota top four was freshman Will McComb. McComb earned Big Ten freshman of the year honors after finishing 14th at the Big Ten championship two weeks ago.
McComb managed only a 52nd-place finish at this weekend’s race, which leaves plenty of room for improvement at the NCAA championship for McComb and the team.
“The national championship is a tough, tough meet,” Plasencia said. “I’m not going to put a number on it … I’d like to see significant improvement.
“I’ve taken two teams to the national championship and we’ve come away both times thinking we didn’t run as well as we could.”

Jim Schortemeyer covers cross country and welcomes comments at [email protected].