Three runners, three reasons to look forward to the season

The three runners have competed in a combined 13 races in a combined eight years.

by Chris Lempesis

A chance to build on a solid freshman season.

A chance for assertion upon becoming an upperclassman.

A chance to finally start a season at 100 percent physically.

Minnesota’s men’s cross country runners Ben Puhl, Ed Kibira and Mike VanBeusekom might all have different points of view with regards to the 2006 season, but they do all have one thing in common.

A chance to break through.

Their coach, Steve Plasencia, said he believes the trio will make an impact for the Gophers this season.

Running as a true freshman, Puhl made an impact of sorts for Minnesota last season, competing in four events and making it onto the Gophers’ Big Ten team.

Puhl said being tested right away only served to build his confidence.

“You get thrown in there with the big dogs and the Big Ten is one of the toughest conferences in the nation,” he said. “So you can’t get any better competition except for the national meet Ö so it definitely helps (your confidence).”

The four events Puhl competed in as a true freshman equaled the amount of events Kibira, entering his junior season, has run during his first two years on the squad. He redshirted as a freshman in 2003.

While he might be somewhat green in terms of actual competition, Kibira said he thinks this will be his best year running cross country.

“This is the year,” he said. “Next year’s my last year so this is definitely a year I’m going to come out (strong).”

VanBeusekom, also entering his junior season, has also seen limited action in his first two years on the team, running in just five meets.

His reasons for seeing less time are a little different than Kibira’s, however.

Health concerns – such as a sports hernia that forced him to redshirt his sophomore season in 2004 and nagging ankle injuries last season – have hurt his chances of seeing extended course time.

“(Last) season I had a few small injuries here and there and I never really got going,” he said.

VanBeusekom said this is the first time since his freshman year that he has entered a season at full capacity.

On paper, it would seem as though the trio have taken different paths to being on the verge of a breakthrough.

That is somewhat true, but there is a common link they all share: success during the 2005 track and field season. In fact, Plasencia said it is the main reason he believes they will all perform strongly this season.

“They became guys who could compete on the Big Ten level in their events,” he said. “I’m just very hopeful that that confidence they gained on the track will carry over to the longer distance of cross country.”

Puhl said Plasencia, also an assistant on the track and field team, was definitely pushing them last spring.

“He put big expectations on having a good track year,” Puhl said. “I think we all stepped up to the plate and had a good season and then that confidence just builds on itself.”

The confidence they earned is reflected in the confidence Plasencia has in them. He said that, while there could be as many as 14 runners competing to make Minnesota’s top seven, all three have a chance to make it.

However, how many of the three make the top seven is yet to be decided. But what is not up for debate is that these three are raring to go in 2006.

“I’m very excited for this cross country season,” Kibira said. “This is a year where things should happen.”

“It’s time to rock and roll.”