Young squad might be school’s best

The Gophers finished ninth as a team – a program best – last season.

C.J. Spang

Last year was a banner year for Minnesota’s women’s cross country team. The Gophers might be hanging a new banner this year.

After a second-place finish at the Midwest Region Championships on Nov. 11, No. 9 Minnesota qualified for Monday’s NCAA Championships at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course in Terre Haute, Ind.

“This is icing on the cake,” coach Gary Wilson said. “Your goal is to get here and if you just keep your wits about you and don’t try to be a hero and try to run someplace you’re not supposed to be, then you’ll be fine.”

Top-ranked Stanford returns every runner from last year’s national title squad and headlines the 31-team, 252-runner field.

As for the Gophers, a year ago they finished ninth and had two runners – Ladia Albertson-Junkans and Emily Brown – earn All-America honors, all school bests.

“I think they both have every capability of being All-Americans again,” Wilson said.

Despite returning only those two runners from last year’s squad and running five underclassmen, Wilson said this team could place even higher.

“I told a lot of coaches this and they all agree: that I think Stanford, unless something drastic happens, they’re going to win the meet,” Wilson said. “But I think any team, I really believe this, any team who’s ranked second to maybe 15th could be on the awards stand, which is the top four – there’s just so much parity.”

One reason the Gophers might have success is they ran this same course earlier this season at the Pre-NCAA Meet in October.

Wilson said he always likes to get his team experience in a big meet and running on the course once before gives the team a little bit of comfort.

“It’s just like anything else,” he said. “Once you’ve been someplace once, you have a lot better perspective on things and it really, really helps.”

Rombough running

While the men’s cross country won’t be competing at the NCAA Championships for the first time in 10 seasons, sophomore Chris Rombough will be representing the Gophers as an individual.

“If you have to have one guy going, he’s a good one to have going,” coach Steve Plasencia said.

Last year at the NCAA Championships he finished 105th, but as of late he’s come on strong, finishing second at the NCAA Midwest Region Championships to earn a berth in Monday’s 10-kilometer race. Before that race, he won the Big Ten Championships, the first Minnesota runner to do so since 1971.

“Chris is a cool customer,” Plasencia said. “He doesn’t seem to let any kind of situation in regard to racing overwhelm him in any way, shape or form, and he doesn’t make more out of it than what it is and so I think he’ll be fine as an individual.”