Women split squad and win both

Derek Wetmore

Splitting the team in half and competing without their top runner wasnâÄôt enough to slow down the Gophers womenâÄôs squad. Competing without Steph Price, who attended her sisterâÄôs wedding this weekend, the women won both meets handily, albeit against a weaker field than last weekendâÄôs Griak Invitational. On Friday head coach Gary Wilson took the second group âÄì which included several runners fighting for a top-team roster spot âÄì to the Blugold Invitational, where they dominated a field of Division II and III teams. MinnesotaâÄôs top-seven runners all placed within the top 15, including five in the top 10. Meanwhile, assistant coach Sarah Hesser took the teamâÄôs top-nine runners to the South Dakota State Invitational, where they won with similar ease Saturday. Seven Minnesota runners finished in the top 11. âÄúWe knew unless something went terribly wrong we would probably get the win,âÄù Hesser said. âÄúBut we were pleased with how many people we got in the top 15.âÄù The prevailing theme of the team all year has been its youth, but inexperience didnâÄôt burn them this weekend. Senior Nikki Swenson took second overall and was the GophersâÄô top runner in the absence of Price, a junior, who has been MinnesotaâÄôs highest finisher in all three of its meets. Following Swenson and rounding out the top seven were five freshmen and a sophomore. âÄúI couldnâÄôt be more pleased with the way people performed this weekend, just getting on the horse and keeping the confidence level high,âÄù Hesser said, adding that confidence is one of the most important things for a young group like this one. Barring an injury, the group that competed at SDSU will stick in the top 12 for the Pre-NCAA meet in two weeks, Hesser said. âÄúPre-natâÄôsâÄù as itâÄôs known, will represent the first strict deadline for when a top 12 must be established, Wilson said. The way the womenâÄôs schedule is set up this year, the team is a month into the season and has not yet had to decide on the top 12. The coaches said that was by design. When you add PriceâÄôs roster spot to the nine that competed as the top team this weekend, it leaves only two spots for which as many as 12 runners are competing. And itâÄôs a dogfight. Fifth-year senior captain Kelly Wilson was the top Minnesota finisher in the 6-kilometer race at the Blugold Invitational, finishing third overall. Her time of 22 minutes, 16 seconds stacks up well with GophersâÄô times at the Griak Invitational. That mark would have placed Wilson fifth for Minnesota, but comparing times is an inexact science because of how difficult the Griak course is. Behind Wilson were Cassy Opitz (5th overall), Kathryn Ritter (6), Katie Salvatore (7) and Kait Mincke (9) in the top 10. The competition is still very open, Wilson said, but this weekendâÄôs results could go a long way in determining the final two spots. âÄúThe thing that I was impressed with is that they ran with real passion and really went after it and they didnâÄôt fold under the pressure of trying to make those [final two] spots,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúWho we are going to end up taking I donâÄôt know yet, but the thing I was pleased with is that they all responded in a really positive fashion.âÄù Coaches said theyâÄôll likely decide who will complete the top 12 prior to the Pre-NCAA meet, but will keep several runners around the top team in the case of injury or illness. The team is going to have an intense week of practice this week to allow them a âÄúdown weekâÄù immediately prior to Pre-NCAA, Hesser said. Both the menâÄôs and womenâÄôs teams will run that meet Oct. 16 in Terre Haute, Ind. Related: – Women split squad this weekend (9/30)