NCAA qualifying the goal on Saturday

Minnesota’s cross country teams will run at the NCAA Midwest regionals.

Matt Perkins

Minnesota’s women’s cross country team is hoping to receive its first National Collegiate Athletic Association Championships berth since 2001 at this weekend’s NCAA Midwest Region Championships in Iowa City, Iowa.

And their chances already look good.

The 11th-ranked Gophers are confident they have enough at-large points to finish just outside the top two automatic qualifying spots and still qualify for the NCAA Championships.

“We have been talking about it as a team, and we are not going to settle for third even in the region,” senior team captain Lauren Williams said. “We still want that first-place finish. That is our goal and we are going to accomplish it.”

Williams, along with fellow seniors Harper McConnell and Jen Hess, hope to reach the NCAA Championships for the first time in their careers.

More importantly, it would send the message to the freshman class that the hard work really does pay off.

Coach Gary Wilson said that message would mean even more to this year’s group of youngsters.

“We have no freshman on the top seven, but about seven or eight in the next 10,” Wilson said. “You can see they are just waiting for their chance.”

Wilson and Williams both stressed the importance of having a good shot at an at-large bid, but said they can’t rest at any point in the six kilometers they face at 12:15 p.m. Saturday at the Ashton Cross Country Course.

They just need to qualify.

“As long as we make it, that’s all I care about,” Wilson said. “I mean you can’t dance unless you get to the dance, and when we get there, I know we’ll dance well.”

Men look to extend NCAA streak to nine

Minnesota’s men’s cross country team looks to extend its streak of eight straight NCAA Championship berths to nine this weekend at the NCAA Midwest Region Championships in Iowa City, Iowa.

They seem to have the best team quality going for them – experience.

Senior Ryan Malmin placed third at the regional last year, and brings in something better than four years of experience – four years of successful experience.

“That’s the thing we have is confidence,” coach Steve Plasencia said. “If you have success you know you can do it.”

NCAA competition extends men’s races from eight kilometers to 10 kilometers, something Plasencia said doesn’t necessarily benefit anyone.

Even if it does, his team’s confidence and experience is the biggest benefit of all.

“As you get later in the season you tend to get faster, not stronger,” Plasencia said. “But we can get the job done because we’ve been there before.”