Grumstrup and Vega provide late-season boost

Erik Grumstrup and Antonio Vega were out with injuries earlier this year.

C.J. Spang

While Minnesota’s women’s cross country team has been grabbing all the headlines, the men’s cross country has quietly gone about its business this season.

Even without 2004 all-region performers Antonio Vega and Erik Grumstrup, who missed the first two races due to injury, the Gophers climbed to No. 20 in the NCAA polls.

“I think those young guys really helped carry us,” said coach Steve Plasencia. “When we get these two guys back in Ö it should only make us that much stronger.”

In this season’s first race, the BYU Autumn Classic on Sept. 10, Minnesota took second behind current No. 6 Brigham Young.

Two weeks later, at the Roy Griak Invitational in Minneapolis, the Gophers took seventh out of 27 teams, including eight of the teams currently ranked in the nation’s top 30.

“I had gone into the meet saying if we could be in the top 10 that would be a positive for us,” Plasencia said. “We finished seventh, so I had to be generally with the effort that we had there.”

After months of recovery for Vega, and a little over a month for Grumstrup, Minnesota was able to run with all its top runners at Jim Drews Invitational in La Crosse, Wis.

Even though the race didn’t have the same level of competition as the Griak Invitational, the race did feature perennial national power Wisconsin.

The Gophers placed second out of 23 teams, just six points of first place.

While six points looks good on paper, in reality, Plasencia said, it doesn’t mean much.

“They came down with about a half-loaded squad, so it wasn’t everybody they have,” he said. “We don’t have any illusions whether that was all they have to show or not, we know they got some cards back in their hand yet.”

The biggest encouragement for Minnesota was that Vega placed eighth and Grumstrup 18th, in their respective first races of the season.

“It definitely makes a huge difference to have them back,” senior Ryan Malmin said. “Because 100 percent healthy or not they’re going to score for us, just off of natural ability alone.”

While the chance to run again was a high point for Vega and Grumstrup, the road to recovery was anything but.

Vega was unable to run the whole summer with a back injury and when he did try running in late August, he knew his season might be in jeopardy.

“Originally I didn’t think I was going to run cross country at all,” Vega said. “Mentally I wasn’t into it. I just didn’t think this was going to happen at all.”

But encouragement from his teammates and coaches helped Vega regain his focus and work even harder at recovery.

Grumstrup’s injury didn’t require nearly as much recovery time as Vega’s.

“We sort of knew that the stress fracture I had was fairly minor and so I think all along I was expecting to be come back by Big Tens,” Grumstrup said. “That at least allowed me to see the light at the end of the tunnel a little bit.”