Gophers split this weekend

The women’s team finished fourth at the Roy Griak Invitational last weekend.

Chris Lempesis

In last weekend’s Roy Griak Invitational, Minnesota’s women’s cross country ran its entire team in a field that included five teams ranked in the Division I top 30.

Things will be a little bit different for the 19th-ranked Gophers this weekend, however, as Minnesota will split up its team for a pair of meets.

The Gophers’ more under-the-radar runners will compete today in the six-kilometer University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Invitational. The team’s current top 12 runners will head to Brookings, S.D., Saturday for the South Dakota State Invitational 5K.

Another difference from last weekend is that in both meets this weekend, Minnesota will run primarily against Division II, Division III and lower-level Division I teams.

“(The South Dakota State meet) will give us a chance to refocus,” said redshirt freshman Megan Duwell, one of the 12 competing Saturday. “It’s a smaller meet so we can just try to do bigger things and just try to run our own races.”

And while the meets might have lesser competition, for a team as young as the Gophers, every meet counts in terms of the chance to gain experience at the collegiate level.

“We might not be getting points towards the national meet or anything (this weekend),” sophomore Ariella DePrenger-Gottfried said, “but it definitely helps to place people on the team and to just improve.”

This weekend also is important for Minnesota because it marks the end of the first phase of the season – referred to by Duwell as the “experimentation mode” – and begins the second phase – one that is considerably more important.

In the next month, Minnesota will compete in the Pre-NCAA Meet in Terre Haute, Ind., Oct. 14 and the Big Ten Championships in Bloomington, Ind., Oct. 29.

Both those meets will be key in deciding who is still running for the team when November, the month of the NCAA Midwest Regionals and the NCAA Championships, rolls around.

“I (told the team), This month was for running. This month was for figuring things out and getting a couple of races under your belt and just kind of learning the system,” coach Gary Wilson said. “This coming month is, OK, let’s get on the train because it’s leaving the station and you need to be on it.”

Specifically, Wilson said, the runners need to start focusing on themselves as individuals and work on everything that they can in order to get better.

Incentives exist for those who improve the most in the next month.

Wilson said that although the team’s current top 12 runners are heading to the South Dakota State meet, spots 9 through 12 are definitely open. The top 12 get to travel to the Pre-NCAA Meet.

“We’ve got kids going to Eau Claire that have got every chance to make the top 12,” Wilson said.