Women’s cross country still going strong

David La Vaque

Don’t stand too close to Minnesota’s Gary Wilson. You might get hit by lightning.

Wilson’s women’s track and cross country teams have suffered multiple, crucial losses recently, reducing the fire power of once potent teams.

The Gophers head into Sunday’s Big Ten Cross Country Championships without the runners who finished first and fourth for the team at last year’s conference meet.

Sophomore Lisa Dyer (stress fracture) and senior Anita Menden (foot surgery) will not be among Minnesota’s nine competing runners.

Also of note, the Gophers’ track team lost two All-Americans in sprinter Tahesia Harrigan and javelin thrower Barbora Spotakova.

Harrigan followed former assistant coach Sidney Cartwright to Alabama in August while Spotakova returned home to the Czech Republic earlier this fall.

To combat the losses, Wilson has drawn on knowledge gained from more than 35 years of coaching, including 18 at Minnesota.

He said nothing is learned from success, but the lessons that come from adversity are what count.

“Bad things happen,” Wilson said. “You can either whine about it or get something done. Frustration sets in but after a few days, you work on the solutions, not the problems.”

Wilson has pressed on and his team has followed. Together they will take on a Big Ten field as tough as any the coach can recall.

The Gophers scored 112 points to finish fourth at the conference meet last year. Wilson predicted 112 points puts his team seventh this year.

“We can end up seventh, but that doesn’t concern me as long as we all run well,” Wilson said.

Leading the nine-runner charge for Minnesota will be junior Darja Vasiljeva. The Latvia native was the second-best Gophers runner at the conference meet one year ago, finishing 15th overall.

But if Minnesota has its sights set on running with favorites Wisconsin, Michigan State and Indiana, Wilson said his athletes running fifth through ninth must close the gap.

Though six of the nine athletes are underclassmen – including three freshmen – competition at large races like the Roy Griak Invitational and the pre-NCAA meet have melted away many of the jitters.

“I’m not as nervous going into this weekend because of the experience I’ve had so far,” freshman Lauren Williams said. “But this is to make the cut for being one of the seven runners to go on, so there’s some pressure.”

These are the type of athletes Wilson needs in large quantities as the program rebounds from defection and injury.

“These kids are tough hombres,” Wilson said. “They’ll continue to give all they have. I think the world of them.”


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