Gophers men travel to Indiana for NCAA meet

Minnesota is aiming for a top-15 finish after taking 26th a year ago at NCAAs.

Matt Anderson

If Minnesota men’s cross country coach Steve Plasencia could have planned this season in advance, it would have looked very similar to the way things have gone heading into today’s NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind.

The 15th-ranked Gophers took home first place in the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships last weekend, with five runners placing in the top 20, including a first-place finish for senior Andrew Carlson.

With a team that is peaking at the right time and is heavy with experience, Minnesota’s season-long goal of a top-15 NCAA finish appears within reach.

“It’s neat the way things have worked out for us,” Plasencia said. “This is a good group – as good as I’ve had here.”

In Plasencia’s previous eight years as coach, Minnesota’s top finish at the NCAAs was 15th place in 1999.

The group running in Terre Haute includes seniors Carlson, Ryan Ford, Mike Bialick and Josh DoBell.

“We just need to run like we know how to,” DoBell said. “We’ve been trying to do something special for a long time, and this is our last chance.”

Junior Ryan Malmin, who finished second on the team in all but one of his races this year, freshman Justin Grunewald and sophomore Antonio Vega round out the NCAA runners for Minnesota.

“To have Carlson and Malmin running up with the leaders, it’s going to help us a ton,” Ford said.

This is Carlson’s third NCAA Championships race at Minnesota, and Ford will become just the second runner in school history to have competed in four NCAA Championships, joining Will McComb, who accomplished the feat from 1999 to 2002.

“I’m blessed to have been there four years in a row,” Ford said. “It’s something I’ll probably look back on in 10 years and appreciate more.”

To finish in the top 15, Ford said, he thinks the Gophers will have to place all seven runners in the top 100 and five in the top 75.

The course in Terre Haute is a true cross country course, as opposed to the golf course Minnesota runs on at home meets and the course that hosted last weekend’s regional meet in Peoria, Ill.

“It favors a stronger runner a little more in this set up,” Plasencia said. “It shouldn’t hurt us.”

The team has trained exclusively over rough terrain on the St. Paul campus for the past week, and most of the runners competing today raced in Terre Haute in the NCAA Championships two years ago.

“We know where it’s going to be bumpy and where we’ll have to fight through it,” Ford said.

It rained over the weekend in Terre Haute, which will make the course muddy and slightly different from the course Minnesota ran on in 2002.

And despite Plasencia’s confidence, he said he realizes that at the NCAAs, anything can happen.

“It’s a crapshoot in a big cross country race like that for everybody,” he said.