Rombough’s run across the St. Croix a boon to Gophers

Chris Rombough spurned his hometown Badgers to attend Minnesota.

Chris Lempesis

It seemed like the perfect fit: Chris Rombough and the University of Wisconsin.

When it came time for Rombough – arguably Wisconsin’s top high school cross country runner – to choose a college last fall, he would of course pick the Badgers, winners of six consecutive Big Ten championships and national runner-up in each of the past three seasons Ö right?

Wrong.

Rombough, a native of Fremont, Wis., (about 56 miles southwest of Green Bay) and two-time state cross country champion, went against popular thinking and decided to become a member of Minnesota’s men’s cross country team.

You might be asking: Although the Gophers have a good cross country team, with eight straight NCAA Championship appearances, why would he choose them over the Badgers, a perennial powerhouse who, in addition to their past successes, are the top-ranked team in the country heading into 2005?

Well, for one, Rombough – who plans to major in chemical engineering – said he heard a ton about the athletics program at Wisconsin, but little else.

“When I was on my visit, they didn’t show me anything academically,” he said. “Everything was just strictly athletics.”

Rombough also said the chance for him to step in and contribute right away was a factor in choosing Minnesota.

The decision has led to some friendly harassment from the folks back home.

“I got teased quite a bit for it,” Rombough said. “But I didn’t care.”

Long before he chose Minnesota, however, the Gophers had selected him as a recruiting target.

In fact, they went after him as soon as they possibly could.

“Right away,” coach Steve Plasencia said. “When the NCAA allows you, July 1 after his junior year (in 2004).”

Plasencia said that he and Rombough began talking soon after and got together in August 2004. By fall, Rombough had decided to don the maroon and gold.

Despite all his accolades and the work it took to get him, Plasencia said he’s not placing too much pressure on the freshman.

That being said, Rombough still has some fairly lofty expectations for himself for the 2005 campaign.

“This season, (I’d like to be the) top true freshman in the Big Ten,” he said. “Being a top three runner on the team, top 50 at nationals.”

Sophomore Justin Grunewald ran as a true freshman last season and likes Rombough’s potential.

Still, he said he’s been telling the youngster to make sure he doesn’t run out of gas early.

“Just not to train too hard too early and have a lot left at the end of the season,” he said. “That’s when it counts.”

Judging from his sixth place showing at last weekend’s BYU Autumn Classic in Orem, Utah, Rombough’s started on the right foot.

It was during that race, about a mile and a half in, when Plasencia said he noticed Rombough running with a grin on his face.

While Rombough was smiling, it might be only a short time from now when the Badgers are frowning.