Both the men’s and women’s Gophers cross country teams will roll into East Lansing, Mich., for the Big Ten championships this weekend with a familiar strategy: start strong.
Both teams will run Sunday at Michigan State University’s Forest Akers Golf Course. The men will run eight kilometers, and the women will run six. Nine runners will compete from each team.
Men’s head coach Steve Plasencia said the Big Ten meet is the team’s smallest of the season in terms of the number of athletes competing. But he said starting strong will still be key.
Starting well is also an emphasis for women’s head coach Gary Wilson.
“This is a very fast course, and it’s a flat course,” Wilson said. “So there’s not much to bring you back if you go out too slow. … You have to give yourself an opportunity to close well in the last 1,000 meters.”
Plasencia said getting caught in traffic doomed the Gophers in the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational. He said a faster start, combined with fewer runners at the Big Ten meet, should help the team.
Plasencia didn’t set the Gophers’ lineup until this week, but he said that wasn’t a sign his team has depth.
“We were four to five deep at the Adidas meet,” Plasencia said. “We thought we had more depth on our roster.”
The Gophers finished a subpar 22nd in a 45-team field at the Adidas meet.
“This group can do well at the Big Ten meet,” Plasencia said. “It’s just we need to hit on all cylinders like we did at the Griak and not misfire like we did over at the Adidas.”
Minnesota won the Roy Griak Invitational, which was hosted at Les Bolstad Golf Course, for the first time in program history this season. Plasencia said the Gophers changed their training after their disappointing performance at Wisconsin to try to better prepare for the Big Ten.
“I’m confident that these guys are going to be in a good place going into the meet,” Plasencia said.
While the men’s lineup for this weekend was decided a couple days ago, the women’s has been set in stone for a while now.
“It’s a little unusual,” Wilson said. “I feel very confident with anyone that’s running that made the top-10, and even 11 and 12.”
Wilson said that one big threat at the meet — besides the strong schools like Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin — will be strong individual runners from less-dominant schools.
“A team might not have a chance to win as a team … but they might have one or two individuals,” Wilson said. “And every single kid in that race can bump you back.”
Minnesota’s recent results have proven that “every spot counts” philosophy.
“We won two Big Ten titles, one by one point and one by four points,” Wilson said. “In both of those races, every single step in that race counted.”
The Gophers will field a group of runners with Big Ten experience, which should aid their quest for a strong finish this season.
“There’s nothing like being weathered,” Wilson said.