After NCAA drought, senior class trying to start a new streak

Chris Lempesis

From 1997-2001, Minnesota’s women’s cross country team made it to the NCAA Championships. When the 2002 crop of freshmen entered the scene, they expected the streak to continue.

Four years later, that group of freshmen is still looking for their first berth in the NCAAs.

The 10 seniors on the Gophers roster hope their final season will bring the start of a new streak.

“That would be the ultimate goal,” senior Lauren Williams said. “To score well and do well at the national level.”

Along the way, Minnesota also hopes to finish high in – if not win – the Big Ten conference meet, which it will host this year.

Coach Gary Wilson said he feels confident about his team’s chances to achieve both, saying the entire team enters the season in great shape.

In fact, the team is in such good shape it’s presenting a slight problem for Wilson, entering his 21st season as Gophers coach.

“My challenge right now is to make sure that they don’t peak for the Griak meet (on Sept. 24),” he said. “I’m trying to hold them back a little bit and say ‘OK, let’s cool our jets here a little’ because it’s a short season but it’s also a long way until the end of October, early November.”

One of the runners in especially good shape for the start of the season is senior Lauren Williams. Minnesota’s top runner, Williams earned both All-Midwest Region and All-Big Ten Second Team honors in 2004.

Williams has come back from two spring injuries: a partially herniated disk in her upper back and a pinched sciatic nerve in her right leg, and is now at 100 percent.

“Everything’s that important to running, she seems to have it down,” junior Emily Brown said of Williams.

“I think she’s a great leader for the rest of the team and a great role model. She doesn’t withdraw herself from the rest of the team like some other No. 1 runners might do.”

However, Williams shouldn’t be the only standout performer for the Gophers this season. Brown and sophomore Ladia Albertson-Junkans, among others, are expected to have strong campaigns.

Minnesota’s season kicks off Saturday as the Gophers host the Oz Memorial Run at the Les Bolstad Golf Course in Falcon Heights, Minn. Drake and Minnesota State will also be in attendance for the meet.

“People are running for spots from the get-go, and kind of that first goal that kids have got is to make the traveling squad of 12,” Wilson said. “So, this is that first step in that.”

Making the traveling squad might be the first goal for the 2005 Gophers, but it certainly isn’t the last.