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Oz run next up for cross country

When Minnesota’s women’s cross country team hosts the Oz Memorial Run on Saturday at the Les Bolstad Golf Course, coach Gary Wilson hopes it will be under more comfortable running conditions.

Over the last couple weeks of practice, Wilson’s squad has dealt with respiratory problems stemming from stiff humidity and temperatures reaching into the 80s.

“When this weather breaks, we’ll see a big difference,” Wilson said. “We’re Minnesotans, dang it, not tropics runners.”

Wilson will run 22 members of his team Saturday, and he hopes to see them finishing in packs. With the loss of top runner Darja Vasiljeva for the season with a hamstring injury, the Gophers will have to rely on their depth to compensate.

“All things considered, this is more of a pack kind of team,” Wilson said. “There is so much team support that they are going to pack it in and finish five, six, seven, eight kids within a few seconds of each other.”

After this year’s intrasquad meet Sept. 6, Wilson compared the team’s finishing times to last season’s intrasquad times. He pointed out that this year, 10 runners finished the race with better times than last year’s fourth-place finisher.

In fact, this year’s top five finishers would have defeated last year’s top five by a 26-34 score.

Heading into this weekend, Wilson hopes to take the opportunity to tune up for the bigger part of the season, namely the Roy Griak Invitational on Sept. 27.

“Everyone is coming along nicely, but the mantra of the season has been the little things,” Wilson said. “Everyone has to make sure they are taking care of themselves, eating well, getting enough sleep, because this is too competitive of a team to let the little things catch you.”

Although the Gophers did not make the NCAA championships last year, they still received votes in the preseason national poll. But Wilson knows his team still has to earn the respect they receive.

“Nobody hands out an award because you think you should get one,” Wilson said.

Carlson out for opener

The women’s team isn’t the only one starting the season without its top runner from 2002. Minnesota men’s cross country runner Andrew Carlson, who earned All-America honors last season by finishing 32nd in the NCAA meet, has an injured back and will not compete in the BYU Autumn Classic this Saturday.

The 19th-ranked Gophers travel to Utah to open the season against several of the nation’s top teams, including No. 12 BYU. The Gophers finished third at the same event last season, and coach Steve Plasencia views the meet as a chance to keep improving.

“The meet affords us the chance to run against some good Division-I caliber competition before we get to our home meet,” Plasencia said. “I look at most of the season as preparatory for the Big Ten meet and beyond. So this is very preliminary preparation for what is going to be down the road.”

Plasencia is the first to admit that without his top runner, his team will need meets like this weekend’s to gain experience.

“Until Andrew Carlson returns, we obviously are not running on all cylinders,” Plasencia said. “He was our top guy by a significant amount last year.”

Carlson, the Gophers’ top finisher in five of six meets last season, might not be out much longer and his condition is described by Plasencia as day-to-day.

Plasencia expects Ryan Malmin, the Gophers’ second runner, and Ryan Ford, who was all-region last year, to have big seasons this year. Erik Grumstrup, the Gophers’ top finisher at the BYU meet last season, also returns.

“But it’s always kind of a mixed bag in cross country,” Plasencia said. “To get seven or nine or 12 guys running well on the same day is an unlikely circumstance, so we need to have five guys run well on any one day. And if five guys run well, I’m happy – no matter who they are.”

The Gophers placed 17th in the NCAA championship last season. But if they can shy away from injuries, Plasencia hopes his squad can finish even higher this season.

“Our teams have always been one to come on later in the year,” Plasencia said. “We have to get through the injuries and bumps that seem to be inevitable early in the year and get ready for the more important meets at the end of the season.”

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