Men’s and women’s runners among the 3,000 in town for Griak Invitational

The race, in its 19th year, is held in honor of long-time men’s coach Roy Griak.

by David McCoy

Les Bolstad Cross Country Course will be a busy place this Saturday, when Minnesota’s men’s and women’s cross country teams play host to the 19th annual Roy Griak Invitational.

It is the nation’s largest cross country meet, putting the Gophers in an unfamiliar spotlight.

But Minnesota’s runners said they enjoy the exposure.

“It’s really fun,” women’s junior Carly Emil said. “No one really seems to care about cross country, and it kind of seems like, for a day, people do.”

The day-long event, which is named after long-time men’s coach Roy Griak, will feature more than 3,000 runners from all three men’s and women’s collegiate divisions, as well as boys’ and girls’ high school teams.

Minnesota’s women’s team is entering the race riding high, after its easy win at the Oz Memorial Run two weekends ago.

Coach Gary Wilson will most likely hold star runner Darja Vasiljeva out of Saturday’s race because of health concerns he said.

“I’m really upset, because this is one of my favorite races,” Vasiljeva said. “I wish I could run, but I guess my body says ‘no.’ I feel like I’m getting better every day, but it will just take a long time.”

Wilson declined to comment on the details, but Vasiljeva said that among other things, she’s been experiencing iron deficiency problems, which she said is the reason she has not been running up to her potential so far this season.

Vasiljeva declined to discuss her other health problems in detail, but she did say she hopes to begin competing again a month from now.

Wilson told his team at Wednesday’s practice that in order to be competitive this weekend, it will need to be unselfish and stick to its strategy.

“You have to learn your role,” Wilson told his runners. “You can’t try to replace Darja, because (Darja is irreplaceable). Run your own race to the best of your ability and be comfortable in your role. If you do that, then the team will perform pretty well.”

The Gophers’ strategy Saturday will be to run in a tight pack so they all finish at the same time and increase their chances for a lower score.

“We’ve got enough depth,” Wilson said, “that if we can run well as a group, then we can do pretty well as a team.”

Although Wilson said he wants his runners to take every race seriously, he wants them to keep this one in perspective.

“I take it with a grain of salt,” Wilson said. “I say let’s perform as well as we can, but our big objectives are the Big Tens, regionals and nationals.”

Men’s cross country coach Steve Plasencia said his team is taking a similar approach toward the Griak.

“We have it in perspective,” Plasencia said. “But there’s an added desire, because it’s our only home meet, and our family and friends will be watching.”

Plasencia said he plans to use this weekend’s meet to gauge his team’s progress.

“We can judge how well we’re doing based on previous Griaks,” he said.

The men’s team, which has made it to the NCAA Championships the last seven years, enters this weekend ranked 16th in the nation.

Sophomore Antonio Vega said this race is an opportunity to show the competition how they match up.

“It’s our only home meet,” Vega said. “So everyone’s going to perform as good as they can.”