Men and women head to Midwest Regional meet

Both head coaches are looking for their teams to advance to nationals.

Max Sanders

After third place finishes for both the menâÄôs and womenâÄôs cross country teams at the Big Ten Championships, this weekend will provide a chance for both teams to seal their entry into the NCAA Championships, or make their best case to gain an at-large bid. Held in Missouri , the NCAA Midwest Regional awards automatic entry to the NCAA Championships to the top two finishers in each of the nine regional groups. Teams that finish out of the top two will then have to hope for an at-large berth to qualify for the NCAA Championships. After having their streak of two consecutive Big Ten titleâÄôs snapped at this yearâÄôs Big Ten Championships, womenâÄôs head coach Gary Wilson will look to extend another streak this weekend at the regional. âÄúWeâÄôd certainly like to win the regional title for the third year in a row; we also know that the objective this weekend is to get to nationals,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúIf weâÄôre top two, great. If weâÄôre top three or even top four, we most likely will go because weâÄôve got enough points. The objective is just to get in there and compete, but I think theyâÄôd like to win the regional title, and I think thatâÄôs their goal.âÄù The third-place finish at the Big Ten, combined with the teamâÄôs second-place finish in the Griak Invitational has WilsonâÄôs squad out for revenge this weekend against the schools that bested them in earlier competition. âÄúI think theyâÄôd like to beat Illinois because IllinoisâÄôs beaten them twice by just a couple points; I think theyâÄôd like to pay Iowa State back for beating them at the Griak,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúI think theyâÄôre in a really good place mentally right now, and theyâÄôve got that fire to go after it, and I think theyâÄôve got some big goals for Regionals and Nationals.âÄù Leading the Gophers in Missouri will be Megan Duwell . The senior is coming off a third-place individual finish at the Big Ten Championships, where she finished the 6-kilometer race with the third-best time in the history of the Minnesota program. While she will undoubtedly face steep competition, Wilson believes Duwell has a chance at taking home the individual title on Saturday. âÄúFor Megan, I think sheâÄôd like to win the individual title, but she also knows Lisa KollâÄôs running very well for Iowa State,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúSheâÄôs got a shot, sheâÄôs got a real shot at it; sheâÄôs running well, and sheâÄôs still got that fire and is healthy.âÄù Fellow senior Jamie Cheever has battled illness all year, and after struggling at the Big Ten Championships, Wilson said Cheever would be a second alternate for SaturdayâÄôs meet. âÄúThatâÄôs where her consistency rating was, and other people deserved to go before her,âÄù Wilson said. Following a third-place finish of their own at the Big Ten Championships, menâÄôs head coach Steve Plasencia is happy with the way training has gone in the weeks leading up to the NCAA Regional. âÄúThe nice weather has been good for training, as we were unfortunate in October. We were fortunate in November to be able to have some good conditions to go outside and get some good workouts in,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúI think weâÄôve had some good training since the Big Ten meet, and weâÄôre just going to move forward and see what happens.âÄù While the Big TenâÄôs saw an adjustment in race length, the NCAA Regional features a wrinkle of its own. Where Big Ten Championships allowed Plasencia to bring nine runners, this meet only allows for seven, meaning the importance of each runner is magnified come Saturday. âÄúWeâÄôll adjust our lineup,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúYou have less room for error when you get down there.âÄù The key to MinnesotaâÄôs success or failure Saturday will hinge on an area it has struggled all season: the No. 5 runner. Freshman Derek Storkel emerged as the leading candidate this weekend with a strong performance at the Big Ten Championship, and Plasencia will count on either Storkel or junior Mike McFarland to fill the No. 5 spot on Saturday. No matter who runs fifth for the Gophers, Plasencia is confident his team can accomplish its goal Saturday and move on to the NCAA Championship. âÄúAnytime you go to a regional, itâÄôs a stepping stone to the national meet,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúOur goal is to send a team on to the national meet, which we have accomplished in 12 of the last 14 years.âÄù