Gophers take to Illinois for shot at NCAA regional title

The top runners from the women’s team are coming off a Big Ten title two weeks ago.

Mark Remme

There were three goals mentioned in late August as the Minnesota women’s cross country team prepared for the upcoming season.

The Gophers hoped to win the Roy Griak for the first time since 2000, win the Big Ten championship for the first time ever and take home a trophy from the NCAA meet.

Well, Minnesota accomplished the first two already this season. They’ll begin battling for the third this weekend at the NCAA Midwest Regional in Peoria, Ill. The 6-kilometer race’s start time is slated Saturday at 12:15 p.m.

In a season full of firsts, perhaps this weekend Minnesota will add another accolade to the list while attempting to earn a spot at the national meet next weekend.

“We’ve never won an NCAA regional, either,” junior Gabriele Anderson said. “But we feel it’s something we can do.”

Rarely this season have the Gophers felt disappointed leaving an event. What might stand in their way is knowing the top runners haven’t competed since two weeks ago at the Big Tens.

A letdown after an emotional win is never welcomed, but it’s often a possibility.

“It’s definitely a concern all the time,” coach Gary Wilson said. “But I told them way back last Tuesday or Wednesday that this is the deal: Don’t worry about anything and enjoy the Big Ten championship until Monday. Then go back to work.”

While conference foes Illinois and Iowa will be present at the regional and, along with Nebraska, seem to pose the most competition for the Gophers, Wilson and Anderson don’t seem incredibly worried about their chances.

After all, this team seems to be on a mission.

“We are very well aware of our capabilities,” Anderson said.

Men chase regional, too

The Minnesota men’s cross country team is in a similar situation as the women.

Their top runners haven’t raced since taking second place at the Big Ten Championships two weeks ago, and as they travel to Peoria for an 11 a.m. race, team members say they’re ready to compete for a regional title.

“We’re ready both mentally and physically,” senior Chris Rombough said. “We’re happy with how we’re running.”

The Gophers will contend with a change in distance. The men’s regular season meets are generally 8-kilometers long while this weekend’s NCAA competition will be a 10K.

Rombough said he thinks the team is perhaps more ready for the longer race than the shorter one.

“I think we’re better suited for it,” he said. “We’ve been training longer and more up-tempo. That’s how our bodies are.”

Rombough said the team’s strategy is to have its top four runners side by side until the seventh or eighth kilometer.

“We all just work together,” he said. “That’s the plan.”