Gophers add one more to already long list of honors

The women took home their first Midwest Regional Championship in school history.

Mark Remme

A betting man might tell you that a “sure thing” is pretty hard to come by, but the Minnesota women’s cross country team is making a strong case otherwise.

The sixth-ranked Gophers have done nothing but win when it mattered most all season.

No Roy Griak Invitation title since 2000? Not anymore. Never won a Big Ten crown? A thing of the past.

And now, for the first time in school history, Minnesota took home a NCAA Midwest Regional championship Saturday in Peoria, Ill.

The Gophers nipped conference rival Illinois 79-91 in the 6-kilometer race. Iowa finished third with 111 points.

This Minnesota squad will go down in school history as perhaps the finest Gophers team in history based on the accolades they’ve accomplished in 2007.

“We set our goals pretty high,” sophomore Jamie Cheever said. “Everything’s coming together.”

That it is. The Gophers are taking strong confidence into Terre Haute, Ind., next Monday for the NCAA Championships.

They’ll bring a team that’s won seven team titles already this year. Cheever said she thinks if the team stays healthy, they could finish in the top five.

Earning a trophy at nationals is the last of Minnesota’s team goals heading into the year. While it’s certainly within reach, coach Gary Wilson remains realistic.

Throughout the year, Wilson has maintained that on any given day when the top teams in the country compete, the top 15 teams have a shot at winning it all.

He said his squad will need to stay together and not get separated in order to finish strong at nationals, a meet where his team certainly would want to end a magical season off right.

Wilson said this year’s results are due to a well-disciplined group that doesn’t stand out. They just produce.

“There are no all-stars on this team,” Wilson said. “We’ve just six or seven kids that can really pack it in.”

Men place second

The Minnesota men’s cross country team went to nine consecutive NCAA national meets before failing to qualify last season.

Saturday in Peoria, the 15th-ranked Gophers made sure that didn’t happen again.

Minnesota finished second behind Oklahoma State 47-57 in the 10-kilometer race, earning an automatic bid for the NCAAs.

The Gophers will make their 10th NCAA Championships appearance in 11 years next Monday in Terre Haute.

“It feels good; as it gets closer, it brings back memories of last year,” coach Steve Plasencia said. “For those who have been around since then, we’ve had a bad taste in our mouths.”

Gophers freshman Hassan Mead took second in the race, finishing in 29 minutes, 57 seconds. He finished just one second behind Illinois Trent Hoerr.

Senior Chris Rombough took fourth at 30:08. The Gophers’ two top finishers, along with seniors Forrest Tahdooanippah and Justin Grunewald and redshirt freshman Mike McFarland all earned spots on the All-Midwest Regional team.

With the solid performance, Plasencia said he’s pleased with where his team ended up.

“I have no complaints whatsoever,” he said. “We looked at the race before and thought four in the top 17 would be good. We got four in the top 16.”

As for finishing second and earning that automatic berth in the NCAA Championships, Plasencia said it’s nice not having to deal with hoping for an at-large selection.

“It’s good to go in the front door,” he said. “It’d be nice to win the regional, but in some respects it doesn’t matter.”