Minnesota looks to run its way through the ranks of the Big Ten

by David McCoy

Minnesota women’s cross country coach Gary Wilson said that although the Big Ten used to be dominated by a few strong teams in years past, the conference is becoming much more competitive.

And although Michigan is once again the heavy favorite this year, the rest of the conference is anybody’s race.

After finishing seventh last year, Wilson said he expects the Gophers to make a move into the middle of the pack as the team gets closer to the Big Ten meet Oct. 31 in Iowa City, Iowa.

“We’re not the best team,” Wilson said. “But we’re certainly not the worst either.”

Coached by five-time Big Ten coach of the year Mike McGuire, the Big Ten champion and third-ranked Wolverines are led by last year’s Big Ten individual champion Rebecca Walter, who has been their top finisher in each of their last seven meets, dating back to last year.

Half an hour northwest, No. 18 Michigan State, who placed 17th at the NCAA Championships last year, has a new coach in Rita Arndt-Molis.

After losing All-American Michelle Carson and senior Jamie Krzyminski, who competed in the Olympic trials, the Spartans are anchored by a much younger group this year.

Freshman Danette Doetzel even posted a faster time at the Spartan Invitational than Carson did last year.

The Spartans’ former coach, Jim Stintzi, is the new coach of Wisconsin. After finishing fifth last year in the Big Ten, the Badgers now have former Gophers runner Katrina Rundhaug.

Rundhaug was the Gophers’ freshman of the year last year and finished second on the team at the Big Ten Championships.

“We have a lot of respect for her,” Gophers senior Sarah Hesser said.

Penn State, which took ninth place at the Roy Griak Invitational at Les Bolstad Cross Country Course two weeks ago, comes into this season after its highest Big Ten finish in seven years last season. The Lions took third place in that event and then 23rd at the NCAA Championships.

The fourth-place team at the Big Tens last year, Indiana will look for returning All-American Mindy Peterson to lead them again. Peterson was the first Hoosiers runner to receive All-American honors since 1989.

Illinois sophomore Cassie Hunt was named Big Ten runner of the week last week after setting a new school 6K record. The 2003 Big Ten freshman of the year, Hunt is expected to lead a team of very young but talented runners this year.

Ohio State, Purdue, Northwestern and Iowa are looking to rebuild after somewhat disappointing campaigns last year. While Ohio State had its best finish at the Big Tens since 1993, Iowa finished last.

But Purdue and Northwestern showed signs of improvement last weekend, placing right behind Penn State and Illinois, respectively.

Wilson emphatically said he has the most respect for the Gophers.

Junior Lauren Williams, who has been the Gophers’ top runner in every race so far, said she believes the Gophers have a chance to do very well.

“This year, with our ability and depth,” she said, “I think we have the ability to compete with any team in the Big Ten.”