Minnesota ready to run at Roy Griak Invitational

Betsy Helfand

Gophers cross country head coach Sarah Hopkins likened planning the 28th Annual Roy Griak Invitational to planning her wedding.

She had a major hand in the Griak — one of the major meets of the regular season — which will take place Saturday at Les Bolstad Golf Course.

“You have to remind yourself that [the planning] is over and you just have to let it go and have fun and appreciate what is going on when it’s going on,” Hopkins said.

From a runner’s standpoint at the Griak, it’s a little easier to soak in the atmosphere.

“There [are] people we don’t even know cheering for us, like, ‘Yay, Minnesota,’” senior Laura Docherty said. “That drives me and that pushes me that a lot.”

Aside from the Big Ten championships and the NCAA meets at the end of the season, the Griak is the No. 19 Gophers’ biggest meet.

It’s also one of the major cross country meets in the country and comes with a lot of excitement and pandemonium on the day of the race.

“The whole day just goes by so fast,” junior Molly Kayfes said. “I feel like we have the whole week we’re looking forward to it, pumping it up, and then [in] a blink of the eye, the race is over.”

Hopkins said the atmosphere was kind of like a “carnival,” with a Jumbotron displaying races and music blaring throughout the day.

This meet will provide the Gophers with their toughest test of the season so far.

The women’s race will have around 25 teams, many of which are ranked — a stark contrast to the Oz Memorial about three weeks ago, where Minnesota was far and away the best team.

“I think the biggest thing for us is to just really see where we’re at right now,” Hopkins said. “We haven’t really had a meet yet that has really pushed us to our limit.”

Docherty said the team is hoping for a “top two or three” finish with “three or four” finishers in the top 20.

Minnesota finished third in a field of 17 teams last year.

Docherty led the way for the Gophers in the six-kilometer race with a time of 21:17. Kayfes was right behind her at 21:39.

This year will be Docherty’s eighth and final Griak after also competing in the race in high school.

“Running in general differed in high school,” she said. “I did not know what I was doing. The gun went off and you just go.” 

She’s come a long way since then.

“I’m going to hopefully go out with a bang,” she said.

Men’s

The men’s team won the Griak last season, but this year senior John Simons said they’re not feeling any pressure to repeat.

Simons said this year’s team is finding a different identity than last year’s.

“A top-five finish would actually be a pretty big accomplishment even though it doesn’t look like it because we won last year,” Simons said. 

Minnesota rested its top runners at the Oz Memorial in early September, so this will be the first competition of the season in which they run.

“It’s going to be a good opportunity for us to see that our guys that we’re counting on to be in shape are in shape,” head coach Steve Plasencia said.

Senior Andrew Larsen said the team has gotten a solid month of training in, but he said he’s ready to finally race.

“I think we’re antsy,” he said. “We’re ready. We’re raring to go.”

Similar to the women’s team, the men’s team will also use the Griak as an opportunity to gauge where the team stands.

“We’ll know pretty well where we stand after this,” Plasencia said. “You don’t need every competitive question answered at this time of the year. Things are still in an evolving mode.”

The Gophers are headed into the race hoping to prove people wrong. Both Simons and Larsen said they think the team is being underrated.

“We just want to show the maroon and gold are legit again this year,” Simons said. “We haven’t really gotten the respect around the country that our team feels that we deserve.”

As for Simons, he said he hopes to be the team’s top finisher and wants to compete for a top-five spot in the race.

Simons led the Gophers in the eight-kilometer Griak last season with a time of 25:01.

Namesake

The namesake of the meet, Roy Griak, ran for the Gophers and then coached the men’s cross country and track and field teams for 33 years.

He currently serves as an administrative assistant for the Gophers.

“I don’t know how many different ways there are to say it, but Roy is a special, special individual,” Plasencia said. “Roy is a legend in our program.”