Women’s cross country runs meet despite golf balls

by Adam Fink

Temperatures approaching 95 degrees and golf balls flying through the air weren’t going to stop Minnesota’s women’s cross country team from running its intrasquad meet and a chance at bragging rights.

On a bright and sunny Saturday at the Les Bolstad Golf Course, the 27 of 35 runners who competed avoided countless golfers playing the links and completed the 5,000- meter race in less than 25 minutes.

Darja Vasiljeva’s 19:01 time led all runners, but the junior’s Maroon team lost to the Gold team 32-27. The native of Latvia was the Gophers top finisher at the NCAA championships last year.

“I am very pleased with the effort,” coach Gary Wilson said of his team, ranked 17th in the nation. “It was very hot and recent rain slowed our times, but we came away stronger.”

Sophomore Laura Bjork finished in second place, 10 seconds after Vasiljeva.

The next two runners to complete the course were both scholarship freshmen running in their first collegiate competition. But they finished the race in different styles.

Fourth-place finisher Carly Emil jumped to her final position right away and paced herself the rest of the race for the Gold squad.

After the starting gun, the Maroon’s Jen Hess quickly took a 15-foot lead over the nearest competitor. The native of Paynesville, Minn., held the lead until the halfway mark and finished in third.

“I wanted to go fast,” a gasping Hess said. “I immediately knew I shouldn’t be there, but I didn’t know what to do. I thought maybe I should slow down and get behind Darja.”

“Can you say race distribution?” added a chuckling Wilson. “She’s a competitor. It was her first race, so she is learning.”

Rounding out the top seven were Zoe Nagell, senior captain Jill Field, and Kimberly Magee. However, Wilson said he expected many of his top-15 runners to improve their times over the course of the next two weeks.

Senior Anita Menden completed only half the course, as she continues to recover from a left leg injury.

Wilson won’t need to make a final decision on his lineup until after the Oct. 5 Iowa State Invitational.

For many runners, the intrasquad was a chance to get back out and compete in a timed race.

“It was exciting to get back out there and compete again,” Vasiljeva said. “We are just getting back into race shape. Everyone did pretty well.”

Not only did the Wilson-coached Gold team reclaim the title they lost last year, but they avoided having to take the dreaded second place trophy: a peeling, porcelain fish attached to a plaque.

Instead, the team claimed this year’s new first place prize: a Gopher lamp fresh out of Wilson’s attic.

While the trophies begin collecting dust again, the Gophers hope the team has worked out the cobwebs and is prepared for Saturday’s Memorial “Oz” Meet.

“I expect this team to close the gap in time distribution,” Wilson said. “It should be a lot tighter. Overall, it was a great way to open the season.”

Adam Fink welcomes comments at [email protected]