Women eyeing title, men trying for second

Zach Eisendrath

Carrying its best ranking in program history, Minnesota’s women’s cross country team has its best finish at the Big Ten Championships in its sights.

The sixth-ranked Gophers will attempt to surpass their program-best third-place finish at the conference championships – which they’ve done on several occasions, including last year – when they race Sunday at Indiana University at the IU Cross Country Course in Bloomington, Ind. The six-kilometer race begins at 9:45 a.m.

Coach Gary Wilson said he has strong expectations for his team.

“Our expectations are that we are going to go in there and try to win this thing,” he said. “That’s the mentality we’re going to go in with, and I’m sure Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin are saying exactly the same thing.”

Third-ranked Michigan is the four-time defending Big Ten champions, but for the first time in years, it is not the overwhelming favorite to win the competition.

Along with Minnesota, No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 9 Illinois should give the Wolverines a run for their money.

Senior Emily Brown, the Gophers’ No. 1 runner, said that during her career, it has been a given that Michigan was going to win the conference, but that is not the case this season.

BIG TEN RUNNERS

Men
Rick Furseth (Jr.)
Justin Grunewald (Jr.)
Yahya Iman (Fr.)
Ben Kampf (Fr.)*
Ben Puhl (So.)
Chris Rombough (So.)
Mike Torchia (Fr.)
David VanOrsdel (Sr.)
Antonio Vega (Sr.)

Women
Gabriele Anderson (So.)
Ladia Albertson-Junkans (Jr.)
Emily Brown (Sr.)
Jamie Cheever (Fr.)
Heather Dorniden (Fr.)*
Megan Duwell (Fr.)*
Katie Howery (Jr.,)
Amy Laskowske (Fr.)
Elizabeth Yetzer (Fr.)

*Indicates redshirt freshman

“They’ve pretty much been a distance powerhouse ever since I came into the conference,” Brown said.

“I think this is the first time since I’ve been here that somebody is actually going to be able to give Michigan a run for their money.”

Brown said it is reasonable to think Minnesota can have its best finish in program history, but she also recognizes the competition is as tough as ever.

“Of course we want to tie or do better than what we did last year,” she said. “But we know that even taking fourth place in this meet will be really good.

“We don’t want to get our hopes up too much, but we’re also not going to be reserved.We’re definitely going to go after the win.”

What could separate the Gophers from the rest of the pack, Brown said, is their depth and confidence level.

Minnesota gained a tremendous amount of confidence when it found out it placed sixth overall at the Pre-NCAA Meet, despite the fact that many of the runners said they felt they could have produced even better times.

Despite having five freshmen on the nine-person squad, Wilson said inexperience shouldn’t play a factor Sunday.

He said he has analyzed the course in Indiana better than any other course in the country and feels confident in his ability to guide the young Gophers this weekend.

He also said he believes the young Minnesota runners shook off their jitters when they were thrown into the fire at the Pre-NCCA Meet two weeks ago.

At this point in the season, Wilson said, his freshmen have graduated into sophomores in his eyes.

“The youth factor is not a factor,” Wilson said.

Men realistic

For Minnesota’s men’s cross country team, second place is really the only option.

The 14th-ranked Gophers will run the eight-kilometer race at the Big Ten Championships at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday.

Simply put, Wisconsin is a men’s cross country dynasty. The Badgers are the seven-time defending Big Ten champions. And dating back to 1985, they’ve won 17 of the last 20 conference titles.

Senior captain Antonio Vega said the Gophers are being realistic entering Sunday’s meet.

Vega, Minnesota’s No. 1 runner, placed 13th at the race a year ago and is looking to finish in the top 10 in this year’s meet.

But Vega said it will be up to lesser-known runners such as freshman Mike Torchia and sophomore Ben Puhl to make sure the Gophers can stay clear of No. 17 Iowa and No. 18 Michigan to secure second place.

“I’d say second is the only place we can finish,” Vega said. “Wisconsin is still No. 1 in the country right now, but I think we are definitely the second best team in the Big Ten.”