Berkholtz leads Gophers to fifth

The women placed fifth and the men finished seventh at the Big Ten meet.

The Gophers might be youthful, but they still managed to come away with a fifth-place finish at the Big Ten championships on Sunday in Iowa City, Iowa.

The team’s inexperience was a big question heading into the race, but head coach Sarah Hopkins said Minnesota’s younger runners stepped up at the meet.

“The people that haven’t been here before raced pretty darn well. Danielle [Anderson] ran great. She was our No. 4 again and just has been really, really solid all year. And Haley Johnson had the race of the meet for us. I was really, really proud of the way she competed today,” Hopkins said.

Redshirt junior Liz Berkholtz led Minnesota and finished 16th in a field of 123 runners. 

Berkholtz and fellow redshirt junior Becca Dyson were the only two runners on the team who competed in the meet last year.

Berkholtz said the younger runners had the opportunity to learn from the meet.

They appeared to do just that.

“Any first-time Big Ten meet is a whirlwind. You learn so much, and they’re going to take this experience,” Berkholtz said. “I’m really happy with how they ran.”

Getting out to a fast start has been a point of emphasis for the Gophers in the past few meets, and this meet was no exception.

“Unfortunately, we needed to run a little better 1K to 3K to put ourselves in a better position, but I was really proud of the way we fought the second half of the race. We could’ve very easily been sixth or even seventh,” Hopkins said. “We just need to be more of a confident team [in the] first 3K.”

Dyson said some runners were hesitant to come out fast, which contributed to the slow start. But the Gophers recovered later in the meet.

“We really had a great [3K] through 6K, but this is a challenging course, and I think we were a little tentative going in,” Dyson said.

Men finish seventh

While traveling back from a seventh-place finish at the Big Ten championships, junior runner Aaron Bartnik had only three words to describe the team’s performance.

“We were disappointed,” he said.

Bartnik said the Gophers were too energized at the start of the meet, which hurt their performance down the stretch.

“We went into this race very excited, and we had a lot of guys at the front of the pack … early in the race. Once the rest of the pack started engaging in the race, we started falling back,” Bartnik said.

Bartnik was the top finisher for the Gophers, placing seventh in a field of 106 runners.

Bartnik praised freshman Obsa Ali, who finished second on the Gophers and 26th overall.

“Obsa ran very, very well. [I’m] very proud of him,” Bartnik said.

Ali was one of three Gophers runners to set a new personal record at the meet.

“We all learned something today about racing at the collegiate level, myself included. I think the main message we want to get from this race is to learn how good the Big Ten is and respect that,” Bartnik said.