Women 15th in Pre-NCAAs

Coach GaryWilson reflected on the resiliency of his runners afterward.

David McCoy

Exuberant over his team’s performance and generous with his praise, Minnesota women’s cross country coach Gary Wilson made a rather profound statement Saturday after the Pre-NCAA meet in Terre Haute, Ind.

“Other than a Stanford or a Brigham Young, that’s got all kinds of academic and Mormon scholarships,” Wilson said, “there’s not another team in the nation that could take hits like we have over the past three years and still be able to be in the top 30 or 40 in the country.”

Dealing with team chemistry issues and scores of serious injuries to key runners, the Gophers truly have been through a lot in the past three years.

And in the first true test of their season Saturday, the Gophers demonstrated the durability Wilson touted.

Taking 15th out of 37 teams in the blue race, Minnesota earned a handful of at-large berth points by finishing ahead of Texas Tech and Virginia – two teams Wilson said have legitimate shots at making the NCAA Championships.

Wilson said several Gophers recorded career personal bests, including junior Lauren Williams, who led the Gophers once again. Williams has been the top Minnesota finisher in all five of the team’s races this year.

With a time of 21:50.4, she bested her former mark by nearly 31 seconds.

“This is a situation where as a walk-on, she just ran like gangbusters,” Wilson said. “She epitomizes what this team is about.”

Senior Zoe Nagell was the second Minnesota finisher, placing 71st. Ladia Albertson-Junkans finished 96th.

The last time the Gophers took 15th at Pre-Nationals was in 2002, when they had Darja Vasiljeva, their team’s most valuable runner that year.

With Vasiljeva’s collegiate career officially ending Oct. 11 due to injury, that makes the Gophers’ effort Saturday even more impressive.

And Wilson said he can’t complain. Nor does he want to.

“When everyone on your team gives you every ounce of blood and guts they have,” Wilson said, “there’s nothing more a coach can ask for.”

Men reach goal

Before the race Saturday at the Jim Drews Invitational in LaCrosse, Wis., Minnesota men’s cross country coach Steve Plasencia told his team to set a goal:

Be 20 seconds faster than you were at this meet two years ago.

“A number of our guys obtained that,” Plasencia said.

Captain Andrew Carlson won the race in brilliant fashion, breaking his former personal best time by 15 seconds on his way to a new record of 24:12.

Carlson also won the race two years ago.

Junior Ryan Malmin also set a new personal best time at 24:30, finishing second.

“You could just see Malmin’s confidence build as the race went on,” Plasencia said. “Good stuff.”

Although the Gophers finished only 10 points behind No. 1 Wisconsin, Plasencia said the results are a little deceiving, stating the Badgers were told to run the meet as a workout.

“I think they were directed to go at a five-minute pace,” he said. “So I take that with a grain of salt.”

Since Minnesota’s reason for going to LaCrosse, instead of the Pre-NCAAs, was to rest up from training, being a little worn out was expected.

“We were a little drained from the hard work,” sophomore Antonio Vega said. “But I thought our team took another step forward.”