Men, women begin cross country seasons

Exhibitions provide chance to evaluate talent and warm-up for regular season

The kickoff to the 2009 cross country season began Saturday, and both the menâÄôs and womenâÄôs programs are looking to continue their success from last year, as both teams finished 2008 with top-15 finishes at the NCAA championships. The womenâÄôs 11th place finish put them in elite company as one of only three programs to finish in the top-12 in four consecutive seasons âÄî Illinois and Stanford being the others. Couple that success at the championship with a second consecutive Big Ten Title, and the bar is set high for the 2009 womenâÄôs team. âÄúObviously, for our team, IâÄôd love to see us win one more Big Ten championship and have our best finish at nationals,âÄù senior Heather Dorniden said. âÄúOur team looks really strong this year.âÄù Leading the way for the Gophers will be fellow senior Megan Duwell , an All-American in 2008. Duwell had a foot injury that kept her sidelined for the end of last season. At SaturdayâÄôs intrasquad meet, she said her foot was completely healed and the results agreed. Her time of 17:41.63 in the 5-kilometer race was good for first among her teammates. Duwell knows being a captain and a senior brings a responsibility to provide direction and stability to a team that boasts over 40 runners. âÄúItâÄôs important to lead verbally, through encouraging words. Just keeping the morale up and the spirits high,âÄù she said. âÄúThey look up to us, so itâÄôs important to do the right things at the right times and just set good examples.âÄù SaturdayâÄôs intrasquad meet provided the first chance for head coach Gary Wilson , entering his 25th year at the helm of the Minnesota program, to evaluate the younger runners on his team. Having a team of mostly seniors, Wilson counts on these early meets to evaluate the younger runners. âÄúWeâÄôre going to be a senior laden team, but we also have to prepare for next year when those kids are gone,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúThereâÄôs a lot of kids that have made tremendous improvement.âÄù One of the reasons Wilson cites for the programs success is having such a large team. Having so many runners and tough intersquad competition keeps everyone on their toes. âÄúNobody can ever feel comfortable with their spot, you have to run to earn a spot,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúThat last kid on the team pushes the next to last all the way up the line, and thatâÄôs what I think makes us very strong.âÄù While trophies such as the âÄúSmelly Fish,âÄù âÄî a fake fish mounted on a plaque âÄî are awarded to the team that finishes last, the intrasquad meet is seen by Wilson and the team as an exhibition, a warm-up to prepare for the Griak Invitational and pre-NCAA meet. âÄúItâÄôs kind of like those exhibition games that Tubby [Smith] has,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúFind out what you got, see what you need to work on and have a game plan to progress forward.âÄù The next competition for the Gopher women will be the Oz Memorial Run, taking place Friday, Sept. 11.

Men begin season at St. Olaf Opener

. The menâÄôs cross country team also began its season Saturday with the St. Olaf Opener. Like Wilson, head coach Steve Plasencia treats the early meets as a chance to evaluate talent on the roster. âÄúThe beginning of the season is a good time to test out your guys and see how your depth is,âÄù Plasencia said. The key to the menâÄôs season will undoubtedly rest in the hands of junior All-American Hassan Mead . Last yearâÄôs co-team MVP will be counted on to help guide the younger runners, especially after the loss of fellow All-American and co-team MVP Chris Rombough, who graduated last year. While Mead did not run at the opener, Plasencia said he does expect him to compete in the Griak Invitational. The men will join the women at the Oz Memorial this Friday, and both programs will compete at the Griak Invitational Sept. 26.