Gophers ready to open cross country season

The men’s and women’s team kick off their season with the Oz Memorial on Friday September 6.

Bethany and Megan Hasz run side by side at Les Bolstad Golf Course on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018.  The Hasz twins finished first and second overall for Gopher women's cross country at the 33rd annual Roy Griak Invitational.

Tony Saunders

Bethany and Megan Hasz run side by side at Les Bolstad Golf Course on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. The Hasz twins finished first and second overall for Gopher women’s cross country at the 33rd annual Roy Griak Invitational.

Brendan O'Brien

Classes are not the only thing beginning this week for the Minnesota Gophers’ Cross Country teams. 

The men’s and women’s cross country teams open up the season Friday with the Oz Memorial meet at Les Bolstad Golf Course. Both teams finished first at the meet last season.

On the women’s side, the Gophers competed in an intrasquad meet last Friday to prepare for the season. Co-captain Tate Sweeney said it was great to see how the team has progressed over the offseason but they are not satisfied with the results.

“We have big expectations because I think we’re a good team,” Sweeney said. “One of our big goals is to be top five or six in the Big Ten because it’s such a competitive conference. And then our [other] goal is always to be back at nationals because that’s part of the tradition of the team.”

The women’s team is coming off their 13th NCAA Championships berth in 14 years. The team spent most of last season ranked No. 23 in the nation and finished 29th at the NCAA Championships. The Gopher Women’s team are entering the season ranked No. 25 in the country.

Coach Sarah Hopkins is in her seventh season as the head coach for the women’s cross country team. In Hopkins’ previous six seasons, the Gophers had five top-five finishes at the Big Ten Championships, with a second place finish in 2017.

“We’ve got a lot of people that got a lot of great experience last year that are ready to step into some new roles this year,” Hopkins said. “It’s an awesome group of women to be around.”

Despite losing leaders like Patty O’Brien and Molly Eastman, Hopkins is excited about the young core of runners that are a part of the program. The team is led by Megan and Bethany Hasz, who both earned All-Big Ten honors a season ago. Anastasia Korzenowski, Jaycie Thomsen and Olivia Hummel are also expected to make an impact this season.

On the men’s side, the Gophers look to bounce back and return to the NCAA Cross Country Championships after failing to qualify for the meet last season. The team finished 7th in the Big Ten last year and received some votes to be ranked in the Top 25 this season.

Coach Steve Plasencia is entering his 22nd year as the men’s cross country head coach for the University. The Gophers have been successful under Plasencia’s guidance, advancing to 15 NCAA Championship meets.

Alec Basten is set to be one of the top runners returning this season for the Gophers. Basten was the top runner for Minnesota in every race he competed in last season. He also earned Second Team All-Big Ten and NCAA All-Region honors.

Evan Ferlic is also returning as a leader for the men’s squad. Ferlic ran a personal best of 24:06.8 in the 8 kilometer while earning NCAA All-Region honors last season. He is entering his second season as a captain for the Gophers.

After this weekend, both teams will have three weeks off to prepare for the next meet of the season. The Gophers will host the 34th annual Roy Griak Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 28 at Les Bolstad Golf Course.

“Going into Oz it will be interesting to see if we can keep that momentum and strength going the rest of the season,” Sweeney said.