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Women’s cross country gets a self evaluation during exhibition run at Les Bolstad

After an 11th-place finish at the NCAAs last year the Gophers are optimistic.

Coming off back-to-back seasons that ended in the NCAA Championships, one word that might sum up expectations for the Minnesota women’s cross country team in 2007 is “optimism.”

But until the squad makes its first run, all those expectations and hopes mean little compared to where team members hope to be at the end of the campaign.

That’s where Saturday’s exhibition at Les Bolstad Golf Course comes in. The team split up into two squads – the maroon and gold teams – and competed for the first time this season in the annual event.

“It’s a good chance to see where we’re at,” junior Gabriele Anderson said. “It’s a way to see how the team is shaping up.”

The results emphasized the promise of the upcoming year. The gold squad, anchored by Anderson who finished second overall with a 19:01.16 finish time, defeated the maroon group 23-33.

Sophomore Jamie Cheever set the pace overall by registering an 18:30.33 performance in the event. Cheever stapled the losing maroon squad.

Meanwhile, senior Ladia Albertson-Junkans – an All-America selection last year – finished eighth overall in the meet.

Minnesota notched a ninth-place finish at the NCAAs two years ago and an 11th-place finish last season, making this year’s crew seasoned with experience against the steepest of national competition.

Now, the challenge is making it back to the prominence the team achieved for itself over the past two campaigns.

But with the success of years past comes a new attitude and higher expectations toward where the team hopes to be at the end of the year.

“I think things are different,” Anderson said. “The mindset is different than it was two years ago. We have expectations of competing at the national meet.”

That added edge is filtering down to underclassmen that look toward the leadership of those who went through the NCAA Championships success of past years.

“We’re confident; we’ve got room to improve but we have a really strong group and a really deep team,” sophomore Alisha Roland said. “People are always pushing each other (for better results).”

Minnesota will begin its regular season competition next Saturday in the Oz Memorial Run. And judging by this weekend’s exhibition, the team seemed confident and prepared for next week’s challenge.

“I think (the result) was what (coach Gary Wilson) was expecting,” Anderson said. “I think that showed in our race. We have a lot of girls who can work together and progress over the year.”

Men’s team begins Friday

The Minnesota men’s cross country team has yet to compete for the first time in 2007.

The Gophers will begin play Friday at the Wisconsin-River Falls Open in River Falls. They’ll continue competition the following day at the BYU Autumn Classic in Provo, Utah.

Minnesota will be led by four seniors on the squad, a steady mix with four incoming freshmen.

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