Gophers have a chance for championship repeat round two

Women's Cross Country Team runs the OZ invitational on the Les Bolstad Golf Course

Steve Maturen

Women’s Cross Country Team runs the OZ invitational on the Les Bolstad Golf Course

When the Minnesota womenâÄôs cross country took to the starting line last year at the NCAA Midwest Region championships, Amy Laskowske wasnâÄôt ready to race. She wasnâÄôt even there. After placing 20th at the event as a freshman in 2006, Laskowske just missed making the Gophers roster as a sophomore when Minnesota placed first in her home state of Illinois. The Palatine, Ill. native used last yearâÄôs track season to improve her long distance running ability, which Gophers assistant coach Sarah Hesser has notice this year. âÄúI think it kind of vaulted her both physically, being stronger, but also mentally, having a little bit more confidence in herself after the way she ran last spring,âÄù Hesser said. âÄúShe can come in and play the game at this level.âÄù This year as a junior, Laskowske has been a regular contributor towards MinnesotaâÄôs team scores âÄî factoring into four meets for the Gophers so far this year. âÄúSheâÄôs a steady Freddy,âÄù Gophers coach Gary Wilson, this yearâÄôs Big Ten Coach of the Year, said. âÄúSheâÄôs not real flashy, she doesnâÄôt talk a lot. She just comes every day, brings her lunch pail and goes to work.âÄù Wilson was so impressed with her work ethic that he named her as one of MinnesotaâÄôs seven runners for the NCAA Midwest Regional in Stillwater, Okla. And as her coach described her, Laskowske was fairly quiet about her return to the event. âÄúItâÄôs a really fun team this year,âÄù Laskowske said. âÄúIâÄôm just excited to run with the team, I think thatâÄôs mainly what IâÄôm looking forward to.âÄù The 2008 All-Big Ten Second Team honoree and the rest of the Gophers will try for their second-straight repeat as meet champions. Two weeks ago, Minnesota successfully defended its Big Ten title âÄî picking up just the second ever conference championship in school history. This weekend, the Gophers are favored to repeat as regional champions when they take the line at 9 a.m. on Saturday. The Minnesota menâÄôs cross country team will also compete at the NCAA Midwest Region Championships in Okla. on Saturday. The Gophers will change up the scenery this weekend in a couple of ways. Most importantly, theyâÄôll have 20 percent more course to look at as the usual eight kilometer course is extended to 10 kilometers for this SaturdayâÄôs 11 a.m. race. Secondly, theyâÄôll see a few new faces. Most of the Big Ten, including Big Ten champion Wisconsin. Will compete in the Great Lakes Region instead of the Midwest, meaning most of the Gophers opponents this weekend will come from the Big 12. ThatâÄôs not all good news for Minnesota though. Last year, Oklahoma State beat out the Gophers for the team title at the event although Minnesota still earned an automatic bid the NCAA championships by placing second.