Simons paces Gophers to fourth place

John Simons also placed fourth individually at the Notre Dame Invitational.

Minnesota senior John Simons runs in the men's Division I Roy Griak Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, at Les Bolstad Golf Course.

Ichigo Takikawa, Daily File Photo

Minnesota senior John Simons runs in the men’s Division I Roy Griak Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, at Les Bolstad Golf Course.

Betsy Helfand

Last weekend at the Roy Griak Invitational, the Minnesota men’s cross country team had problems from the onset. But Friday’s Notre Dame Invitational was a different story.

The Gophers came out with a purpose and didn’t look back en route to a fourth-place finish.

Head coach Steve Plasencia said the team had a “different demeanor” than last weekend, when it hosted the Griak.

Senior captain John Simons said the captains encouraged the team to be more aggressive in the first half-mile of the race so that the team could be in a good position.

“And all of our guys took that to heart today,” he said. “It wasn’t like we got so much more fit in a week. We were capable of doing it at the Griak. We just actually ran the correct strategy today.”

The Gophers finished eighth at the Griak after a runner fell at the start and another lost a shoe. That left the team trying to make up for lost time for most of the race.

“There’s a touch of embarrassment at home,” Plasencia said. “I think sometimes a bad race fuels the next good one.”

With the Griak just six days before the race at Notre Dame, sophomore Adam Zutz said the team didn’t have time to change things up much at practice.

“We knew this was going to be a tough race with a lot of good teams, so we just tried to focus on a good strategy and really get out hard,” he said.

Minnesota, which is unranked, finished behind three ranked teams but ahead of multiple ranked teams at the Notre Dame Invitational.

“It’s an awesome feeling to actually see it on the sheets afterwards and see that this is how good we really are,” Simons said.

Simons paced the Gophers on Saturday, just as he did at the Griak. He finished fourth overall with a time of 24:31.7, which he said he was very excited about.

He said his goal heading into the meet was to be a top-10 contender and realized it was a possibility as soon as the race started.

“Then you start to re-evaluate the goals during the race,” Simons said. “‘Can I finish top five? … Can I finish top three?”

Minnesota’s scoring was rounded out by Zutz (34th), senior Andrew Larsen (36th), senior Steve Sulkin (37th) and junior Blayne Dulian (44th).

“I think we surprised ourselves,” Simons said. “Even on the optimistic side, I don’t think that anybody thought we were going to finish fourth today. This was all positives.”

Women win SDSU Classic, Blugold Invite

The women’s team went in two different directions over the weekend — literally — but came out on top in both meets.

The team’s top runners traveled to South Dakota to participate in the SDSU Invite, while another group went to Eau Claire, Wis., for the UW-Eau Claire Blugold Invite.

Gophers head coach Sarah Hopkins said her team faced 25 mph winds throughout the SDSU Invite, but she said the team raced well.

Minnesota, which was led in South Dakota by junior Molly Kayfes, boasted the first 10 finishers of the race.

Kayfes was the fourth finisher for the Gophers at the Griak and 24th overall. Hopkins said Kayfes wasn’t satisfied with that finish a week ago.

“When she gets a little ticked off, she uses it as motivation for the next one,” Hopkins said. “It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that she threw a few more punches today and got herself back to where she knows she can be.”

The team’s top four finishers — Kayfes, senior Maggie Bollig, senior Laura Docherty and senior Katie Moraczewski — were also the Gophers’ top four at the Griak, though they finished that race in a different order.

“That’s the fun part about this team right now,” Hopkins said.

“It doesn’t mean that anybody had a bad race, but we’ll mix up order.”

Hopkins said the team has a lot of “interchangeable parts,” which is comforting because if one runner has an off-day, it doesn’t mean the whole team will struggle.

She said she thought the runners in the group vying for the team’s fifth spot made progress Friday, as well.

“[They] took a big step … to kind of get some confidence and know that they can be closer [to the top pack],” Hopkins said.

The contingency sent to Eau Claire also came out on top.

The Gophers were led by redshirt freshmen Haley Johnson, who finished fourth overall, and Taylor Mikkalson, who placed sixth.