Carlson leads men to fourth at Griak meet

David McCoy

His new shoes didn’t fit, but that didn’t stop Minnesota’s Andrew Carlson from making team history.

Carlson, the captain of the men’s cross country team, elected to forego using the team’s new sponsor-issued shoes at this weekend’s Griak Invitational, and it proved to be a smart decision.

Carlson finished sixth with a time of 24:25, making him the highest Minnesota finisher in the race’s entire 19-year history Saturday at Les Bolstad Cross Country Course.

Carlson’s strong outing also helped the Gophers to a fourth-place team finish – their best at the Griak since 1997. The feat is even more impressive this year, because the number of teams competing then was much smaller.

“You’ve got to be pleased with that,” coach Steve Plasencia said.

Running in his first home meet since the Griak two years ago, Carlson showed no signs of the injury that kept him sidelined all of last year.

He led the field of 223 runners through the entire first half of the race and was in fifth with only a kilometer to go.

Freshman Luke Bryant said Carlson fired up the team before the race.

“Our captain Carlson said before the race, ‘This is our house, and nobody takes us in our house,’ ” Bryant said.

The Gophers second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-place runners packed well together as a team, which proved to be their biggest strength.

“Not a lot of teams can compare with our grouping there,” junior Ryan Malmin said.

Malmin was the second Minnesota finisher, taking 25th overall.

The sight of two runners from regional rival Iowa gave Ryan Ford the extra push he needed to finish the race hard.

“Every time we see an Iowa shirt, we go after them,” Ford said. “I saw them and just tried to hang onto them until that last hundred meters. Then I knew I could take them.”

Ford passed the two Iowa runners in the race’s final stretch on his way to a 33rd-place finish.

Sophomore Antonio Vega finished 18 seconds behind Ford in 51st.

True freshman Justin Grunewald also made an impressive showing in his first 8k race. He was the fifth Gophers runner to finish and took 65th overall.

First-ranked Wisconsin repeated as champions and has now won eight of the last 11.

The Badgers had the top-Griaks three individual finishers cruising to a first-place finish and tying their own record for the largest margin of victory by outscoring second-place Butler by 81 points.

Their previous record had been standing since 1988.

Wisconsin’s Matt Tegenkamp, who won the Griak as a freshman in 2001, won his second individual title.

Surprisingly, Carlson said he was somewhat disappointed in himself after the race, saying that his drop from the lead was the result of a “mental lapse.”

“I thought I could win,” Carlson said. “I just didn’t have it today. But when it counts, I’ll have it, it’ll be there. I feel OK, but it’s not good to get beat on your home course like that.”

Carlson said he was, however, very happy with his team’s performance.

“They’re troopers,” Carlson said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that people would say aren’t very good recruits, including myself. We don’t have big names, but we just find a way to do it.”

Women take 13th

Led by the 42nd-place finish of junior Lauren Williams, Minnesota women’s cross country team finished 13th out of 29 teams Saturday at the Griak.

It was the second event in a row that Williams has paced the Gophers. She won the Oz Memorial Run two weekends ago.

Providence College won the race, edging second-place Arizona State by a score of 58-81.

Providence senior Kim Smith broke the Griak Invitational women’s individual record with a time of 20:10. The previous record of 20:12 was set by Washington’s Sabrina Morro in 2001.

Promising freshman recruit Ladia Albertson-Junkans, who finished sixth in the Oz Memorial and seventh in the Gophers’ intrasquad race, was on her way to another strong finish when, with 600 meters left, she began to waver.

Stumbling and even falling down once, she nearly ran into the crowd several times, looking as if she was about to collapse. But Albertson-Junkans pressed on and finished the race.

“I feel kind of like I want to dig a hole and go into it, but I’ll keep my head up here, you know, try to keep the smile on,” she said afterward.

Comparing his team to the 1991 Gophers, who took 17th place at the National Championships, coach Gary Wilson said he was very pleased with Albertson-Junkans and the rest of the Gophers’ efforts.

“They fought Minnesota fight,” Wilson said. “Not some freaking candy-butt fight, some ‘I’m from Florida and I can’t take it.’ It’s fun as hell to coach them, because I know that I’m always going to get 100 percent out of them.”