Mead, Price headline enormous Griak field for Minnesota

There is expected to be more than 4,100 runners competing

by Dane Mizutani

More than 4,100 runners are set to compete at the 26th annual Roy Griak Invitational this weekend, and Minnesota seniors Hassan Mead and Steph Price have a chance to win their respective races.

Running legend Roy Griak, 87, will be on hand again this year to watch his alma mater compete in the meet named in his honor.

âÄúFor a lot of years I think Roy carried the whole ball here,âÄù menâÄôs head coach Steve Plasencia said. âÄúHe was the cross country coach [and] track coach, and for the work he has done, he is well deserved to be among the stars of Minnesota âÄî I donâÄôt just mean the University of Minnesota.âÄù

Mead won the Griak in 2009, but did not compete last year, as he missed the entire season with a prolonged Achilles injury paired with a collapsed lung.

This season, however, Mead is ready to take his journey at this meet full circle.

âÄúI got to race it when I was in high school and then I got to race it multiple times as a collegian,âÄù Mead said. âÄúNow itâÄôs just that home stretch. One of my last times I get to lace up my shoes and get to run this course.âÄù

 University of ArizonaâÄôs Stephen Sambu will defend his title at the Griak. He won by almost 20 seconds a year ago.

Mead will challenge Sambu to take back the title he never officially lost.

âÄúAs always you can expect a full effort out of Hassan Mead,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúWe want to keep him healthy and progressing because if we know one thing right now, itâÄôs he is short on races because he sat out for a period of time.âÄù

Mead said he is excited to compete again after a year of absence.

âÄúItâÄôs going to be fun,âÄù he said. âÄúI know itâÄôs going to be very competitive. IâÄôm just ready to kind of test my legs and see how they are.âÄù

Aside from Mead, the rest of the Gophers squad will be looking to build on what has been a successful season to this point.

âÄúThat first race at the Hornet Jamboree in particular I wanted them together so guys like Hassan could help pull along some of the younger guys,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúWe feel good about the Hornet Jamboree, but at this meet we will be able to get a purer picture of where we are.âÄù

The Gophers finished fifth at last yearâÄôs Griak, and MeadâÄôs health combined with the teamâÄôs overall depth has set high expectations.

âÄúItâÄôs probably the second best team that weâÄôve had since IâÄôve been here in this institution,âÄù Mead said. âÄúWe have a hell of a squad. Being ranked 24th [nationally], I definitely expect something good.âÄù

Plasencia, who normally tempers expectations, agreed with his top runner.

âÄúWe would like to be a top-three team out there,âÄù he said.

Members of the team that ran unattached at the Oz Memorial will run unattached in the Division II race Saturday.

Price looks to capture title at the Griak

Steph Price finished two seconds out of first place in last yearâÄôs Griak.

Amid the expectations for this yearâÄôs race, head coach Gary Wilson doesnâÄôt want his All-American to get caught up in the hype.

âÄúI talked to her this morning,âÄù Wilson said Wednesday. âÄúI said âÄòListen. You can end up being first, you can be 10th. You canâÄôt control what everyone else does âĦ Get with that group and whenever youâÄôre feeling good donâÄôt be afraid to push it.âÄô SheâÄôll be up in the hunt.âÄù

Price said she isnâÄôt necessarily setting a place goal either and wants to focus more on her growth.

âÄúItâÄôs still the beginning of the season, so the Griak isnâÄôt the pinnacle of what I want to do, but itâÄôs always a fun race to go out there and try to do your best and set some high goals,âÄù Price said.

North Carolina State runner Laura Hoer won the race last year as a freshman and will be back again this year to defend her title.

Price said she is confident in her abilities if it comes down to the wire as it did last season.

âÄúI have a little bit more confidence to take a chance or make a move in a race and know that I can hang on,âÄù Price said

Though Price will likely be near the front of the pack this weekend, this meet serves as an opportunity for other runners to gauge development.

âÄúAll the kids IâÄôve talked to so far about the race are really excited to see what they can do compared to what they did last year,âÄù Wilson said.

Price said the team goal is a top-five finish Saturday.

In order to accomplish this feat, Wilson said the team must focus the moment they step foot on the course.

âÄúLast year we didnâÄôt do a very good job at the beginning of the meet,âÄù he said. âÄúWe had a lot of people going off wandering around, not being with the group âĦ they were all over the place.

âÄúWe sat them down on Monday and said, âÄòListen. YouâÄôre here for business. YouâÄôre not here to socialize with your brother, your father, your mother, your dog from home. YouâÄôre here to come in and do your job.âÄô

âÄúItâÄôs no different than Tubby Smith. People arenâÄôt wandering around in the locker room with their pet cat before a game.âÄù

Still, Wilson reiterated that this meet wonâÄôt define the teamâÄôs season.

âÄúIt is the Griak, itâÄôs a big meet, but itâÄôs not the Big Ten championship, either,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúItâÄôs a chance for them to get weathered a little bit more.

âÄúIt would be awesome to be a trophy team this year, but at the same time thatâÄôs not the main focus.âÄù