Duwell, Mead lead Minnesota at NCAA Championships

The women and men finished 10th and 24th, respectively.

file photo

file photo

Max Sanders

In what head coach Gary Wilson deemed the toughest field of his 25-year career, the Gophers women’s cross country team continued their run of consistency at the NCAA Cross Country Championships. Qualifying after winning the NCAA Midwest Regional, Wilson’s squad entered the Championships hoping for a top-15 finish. Against a loaded field, Minnesota accomplished its goal, finishing 10th. âÄúWeâÄôre thrilled,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúEverybody ran like a team. They pulled energy from each other, and that was the strategy for today; they did an awesome job.âÄù Leading the way for the Gophers was Megan Duwell . The teamâÄôs top performer all year, the final cross country race of the seniorâÄôs career ended with a seventh-place individual finish. Finishing the 6-kilometer race in a time of 20:07, Duwell earned her second All-America honors, set a new Minnesota record and had the highest-ever finish for a Gophers runner. âÄúShe just ran a perfect race,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúShe ran probably the best cross country race of her life today.âÄù Also running their last race as Gophers were Heather Dorniden and Amy Laskowske . Dorniden finished the race 67th, good for second on the Minnesota team. Like Duwell, Wilson considers Dorniden to have run her best race of the year at the Championship meet. âÄúThatâÄôs her best national finish by far,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúItâÄôs a nice way for her to go out and end her career here.âÄù For the second-straight meet, Laskowske showed she deserved a spot on the Gophers roster. After struggling at the Big Ten Championships with a 38th-place finish, Laskowske bounced back with a ninth-place finish at the Midwest Regionals. At the NCAA Championships, the senior finished a solid 71st and third among Minnesota runners. âÄúAmyâÄôs had really two great races in a row,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúSheâÄôs a gamer; she doesnâÄôt say very much, but sheâÄôll produce.âÄù The 10th-place finish extends a remarkable streak of consistency for the Gophers team. Minnesota now has five consecutive top-12 finishes at the NCAA Championships, joining Illinois as the only two schools currently on such a streak. Considering the depth of this yearâÄôs field, Wilson considered this yearâÄôs finish the best among the previous five. âÄúI think it was, just because the depth of the field,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúYou just have to keep your wits about you and realize if youâÄôre in the top 100, youâÄôre doing well. Obviously itâÄôs a talented field. We could not be happier.âÄù On the menâÄôs side, after getting one of the final at-large bids into Championships, the Gophers finished 24th out of 31 teams. The issue plaguing head coach Steve PlasenciaâÄôs squad all season surfaced again at the Championships. MinnesotaâÄôs fifth runner was Mike McFarland , who finished 185th; the distant finish ended up costing the Gophers on Monday. âÄúA lot of it comes down to, we just gave up so many points at fifth that it just was hard to do things,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúWe just have to get deeper, and thatâÄôs what weâÄôll do.âÄù Minnesota did receive strong performances by its top four runners, three of whom placed in the top 100. Leading the way was Hassan Mead. The junior capped a dominant season with a 16th-place finish. Finishing inside the top 40, Mead earned his third All-America distinction. The three All-America awards put Mead in select company, joining a teammate from a year ago, Chris Rombough, as the only two three-time cross country All-Americans in Minnesota history. âÄúHassanâÄôs one of the premier guys in the nation,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúHeâÄôs one of the young, rising guys in America distance running.âÄù Mead will be returning next year, and though he dominated the cross country circuit this year, Plasencia hinted the junior could be even more dominant in his final season next year. âÄúI donâÄôt think youâÄôve seen his best day at the University, and I know he hasnâÄôt seen his best day as a runner yet,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúItâÄôs exciting for all of us to be associated with a guy of those abilities, especially being what a good quality person he is.âÄù Running his final race at Minnesota was Matt Barrett . The senior finished 96th and after years of battling injuries was rewarded for his hard work with a solid senior season. âÄúMatt Barrett has a heart the size of a lion,âÄù Plasencia said.