Cross country teams prepare for top times at national meet

David La Vaque

Lisa Dyer became accustomed to success as a cross country and track runner at Moorhead High School.

Dyer won the Minnesota Class AA state individual cross country title in 2000, making her the crown jewel of Minnesota’s freshman class this fall.

Though she’s having a solid first year, witnessed by her inclusion on the All-Big Ten second team, Dyer has learned an important lesson about collegiate running.

“Everyone in Division I is good,” she said. “You have to realize when you’re running in the middle of the pack you’re still doing a really good job.”

Gophers women’s cross country coach Gary Wilson, a 17-year veteran, also knows this to be true. Wilson leads his seven runners into the NCAA championships meet next Monday at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., aiming for a top-25 finish.

Minnesota is seeded 27th.

“From the 16th team to the 30th team it’s going to be one of those `any given day’ scenarios. A great accomplishment would be to finish in the top-25, but they’re probably capable of a top-20 finish. And that would be very special for this group.”

Minnesota already joins an elite group of eight schools whose women’s teams have qualified for the previous five or more NCAA meets consecutively.

The Gophers automatically qualified for the national meet with their second-place finish at the Midwest Regional championships last weekend.

Leading the team is Dyer, who was Minnesota’s top runner at both Big Tens (eighth) and the Midwest Regional (12th).

Darja Vasiljeva was the team’s top finisher at the NCAA meet last year, taking 49th overall.

Senior Victoria Moses, who competed last weekend despite a gash on her knee, is the fourth women’s runner in school history to compete in four national meets.

Minnesota finished 26th at the NCAA meet last season, and 17th in 1999.

Men’s cross country

As Minnesota men’s cross country coach Steve Plasencia charted his team’s progress, he found the numbers formed an ugly trend.

At the Roy Griak Invitational, his group finished a nondescript 17th out of 36 teams. Two weeks later, the team came in 14th out of 35 teams at the Pre-NCAA meet.

Then it was on to the Big Ten championships. The Gophers were the seventh-best team in the field, and Plasencia’s hopes for a fifth-straight NCAA championship berth were all but vanquished.

Minnesota, seeded first to begin the year, needed to finish either first or second at the upcoming Midwest Regional or the season was over.

“We made them aware of that,” Plasencia said. “But to their credit, they performed.”

The young team comprised of one freshman, five sophomores and one junior finally caught fire at the Regional, winning the meet ñ its second Regional title in three years – and moving on to the national championships with a bullet.

The Gophers will compete in the national meet next Monday at Furman University in Greenville, S.C.

Only five Division I schools have qualified both men’s and women’s teams for the national championships the last five or more consecutive years: Minnesota, Arkansas, Colorado, Stanford and Providence.

A hallmark of Plasencia’s recent NCAA teams has been late-season flourishes, but the Regional performance left the coach stunned like never before.

“It was the most inspirational performance that I’ve been involved in since I’ve been here,” the fifth-year coach said.

Leading the way for Minnesota will be Will McComb, whose second-place finish led the team at the Regional. Andrew Carlson, Erik Grumstrup, Neil Hanson and Toby Henkels all placed between 13th and 26th.

David La Vaque is the Sports Editor and welcomes comments at
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