Gophers take top three spots at early-season race

Chris Lempesis

Minnesota’s men’s cross country coach Steve Plasencia had an interesting response when asked what he was looking for from his team in Saturday’s St. Thomas Early Bird Meet.

“I’m looking to fulfill NCAA requirements that you have to have so many races,” Plasencia said.

While that fairly describes the laid-back tone of the meet, held on the campus of the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, it’s not as though Plasencia didn’t learn a thing or two about his squad.

Gophers runners took home the top three spots in the meet, which also included runners from St. Thomas and other Minnesota runners competing as individuals. Senior Antonio Vega won with a time of 15:18 and while they had the exact same time as Vega, sophomore Ben Puhl and redshirt freshman Matt Barrett took second and third, respectively.

“It went pretty good,” Vega said. “We kept it as a workout, so everyone stayed together who needed to.”

But, more important than times or places, Minnesota showed that all the work they put in during their training camp last week in Nevis already is starting to show when it matters.

“I thought we had a really good camp,” Barrett said. “We all worked well together and I think it’s definitely what you want at this point in the year – just to go in the right direction together.”

The Gophers, who finished 23rd in the final 2005 NCAA Cross Country Poll, certainly were running together Saturday.

Minnesota had a large group at the front, including Vega, Puhl, Barrett and sophomore Chris Rombough (running as an individual) Plasencia said he was pleased with how strong they ran.

According to Vega, the fact that they were running together was not necessarily by accident.

“We definitely have some guys that are able to run together for a majority of the race,” he said. “Early on in races, if we can get some guys to kind of help each other out as they go on, it will definitely help us in the long run in the finish of the race.”

Women begin season
Minnesota’s women’s cross country team also was in action Saturday, holding its intrasquad Maroon/Gold meet Saturday at the Les Bolstad Golf Course in St. Paul.

Senior Emily Brown, running for the Maroon squad, won the meet with a time of 17:46. A pair of Gold team runners, junior Ladia Albertson-Junkans (17:57) and sophomore Jamie Cheever (18:32), took home second and third, respectively. Highly touted freshman Elizabeth Yetzer, running for the Maroon team, finished fourth with a time of 18:44.

“Today is so fun to watch because you don’t know what you’ve got until you see it,” coach Gary Wilson said. “There’s a lot of good talent here, so I think we’re every bit as good as last year.”

– C.J. Spang contributed to this report.