Women finally capture Big Ten title

Led by Albertson-Junkans, the Gophers won their first title in school history.

Mark Remme

A rather unique mix of excitement, relief and emotional exhaustion accompanied Minnesota women’s cross country coach Gary Wilson’s words Sunday morning.

All things considered, the feelings were warranted. The Gophers could label themselves in an altogether new way after their performance at the Big Ten Championships this weekend in Columbus, Ohio.

Minnesota women’s cross country: Big Ten champions.

After weathering six consecutive victories by Michigan at the Big Tens, the Gophers took home their first conference title in school history by besting Michigan State by one point to take home the crown.

The Wolverines finished third.

“What will be most memorable about this season is it was the most beautiful mix of players and coaches and staff,” senior Ladia Albertson-Junkans said, who has become one of the pivotal building blocks of this team over the past four years. “They made all this possible.”

Wilson had trouble finding words that could describe the championship. He’s put over two decades into the program before snagging this first conference title.

“This is 23 years coming,” a noticeably excited Wilson said. “Like my wife says this would be a great birthday present because my birthday is tomorrow.”

Minnesota is in the midst of a season filled with accolades new to the program. Earlier in the year, the Gophers earned their highest national ranking in school history at No. 4.

Now they can add another first to the list.

Wilson said Albertson-Junkans was adamant in the offseason about pushing for a Big Ten crown, and he and the team rallied around that push with the simple acronym LUDIFL: “Let Us Do It For Ladia.”

In the end, perhaps that phrase was in the minds of Minnesota runners as the race came down to a single point.

“I couldn’t be more excited for Ladia,” Wilson said. “She has been the heart and soul of the team this year.”

Wilson said there was a tenacity in his runners coming down the final stretch where it almost looked like each of the Gophers runners passed at least one person.

Albertson-Junkans agreed.

“Everyone contributed and everyone helped,” she said.

Men finish second

The men’s cross country team gave its best shot to knock off eight-time defending champion Wisconsin, but the Gophers came up short in a second-place finish at Columbus.

The Badgers’ nine consecutive conference titles is a Big Ten record.

Wisconsin accumulated 33 points while Minnesota notched 65. Ohio State finished third while Michigan, a team widely considered to contend for the title this year, finished fourth.

Gophers coach Steve Plasencia said considering his team was picked to finish third at the meet, a second-place finish is a good finish. Wisconsin was just too strong, he said.

“We’re building,” Plasencia said. “The Badgers are a top-four team in the country.”

Gophers senior Chris Rombough, who won the individual conference title last year, was unable to repeat. He finished fourth, second on the team behind Hassan Mead, who finished second.

Wisconsin junior Matt Winthrow paced the field by finishing the 8-kilometer event in 23 minutes, 44.37 seconds.

Plasencia said heading into the NCAA Regional two weeks from now, his team is showing they have what it takes to contend.

“We’ve got a good team, we just need to have a good mindset going into the regional to contend,” Plasencia said. “But we’re happy.”