Women’s cross country poised for greatness

by Adam Fink

Minnesota women’s cross country coach Gary Wilson looked around at his runners last weekend during his cross country camp and realized the competitiveness and talent surrounding him was better than any in recent memory.

The Gophers brought a team-record 35 runners ñ including 16 freshmen ñ to Ely, Minn., for the team’s cross country camp and Wilson had to caution his runners from overworking themselves.

“Races are not won and lost during practice,” said Wilson, in his 18th year as Minnesota’s coach. “There is a fine line between pushing too much and balancing the workload.”

Heading into Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage at the Les Bolstad Golf Course, Minnesota has set high standards after finishing 25th at the NCAA Championships and second at the Midwest Regional last season.

With a plethora of runners and only two seniors from last year’s NCAA team gone, the Gophers goal is simple: a top-12 finish at the NCAA’s this season and first place at Regionals.

“This team is more talented than last year,” sophomore Lisa Dyer said. “All the runners are much closer talent-wise (than last year) and everyone has gained some experience.”

Before the team attempts to improve on last season’s fourth place finish at the Big Ten meet, Wilson must set the rotation of seven runners ñ a decision he’s glad he won’t need to make for over a month.

For the three up coming meets, the Oz Memorial Run on Sept. 14, the Roy Griak Invitational on Sept. 28, and the Iowa State Invitational on Oct. 5, all 35 runners will compete in each race and have a chance to earn one of those seven spots.

“We are a very deep team,” Wilson said. “We haven’t had this much depth in a long time. It will be interesting to see who comes out of the mix.”

While Wilson won’t speculate on his line-up, he expects Dyer, junior Darja Vasiljeva, Laura Bjork, and senior captain Anita Menden to make the cut.

However, Minnesota might be without the services of two of the runners Wilson named. Dyer injured her right leg early this summer but her left leg has been bothering her recently.

“I am prepared to help out this team, whether competing or cheering from the side,” said Dyer, named second team All-Big Ten last year.

Results of an MRI are expected later in the week.

In addition, Menden has been increasing her workout load each week and hopes to fully recover from a summer leg injury in time to compete next month.

If both aren’t able to run, they will redshirt this season and leave a huge gap for the freshmen to fill.

Scholarship runners Carly Emil from North Dakota and Jenny Hess from Minnesota are both state champions and Wilson expects them to make an impact during their first year on the team.

“They will be able to contribute right away,” Wilson said. “They have experience and we expect a lot from them.”

In addition, the 13 walk-on freshmen have proven to be better than expected and, according to Wilson, many turned down scholarships elsewhere to compete for Minnesota.

Since practice began on Aug. 26, the runners have improved by competing with each other.

For the next two months there will be improvement, competition, and the normal ups and downs of the season in preparation for the Big Ten meet on Nov. 3.

By the time the season concludes in late November, the Gophers hope to have run away on the courses and re-written their record books.

“We didn’t get our fire back until November of last season,” Wilson said. “This year’s team will have more competitions from meets and themselves to be ready. They know they can be the best team this school has ever had.”

Cartwright goes to Alabama

Sidney Cartwright, the assistant women’s track and field coach who worked with the sprinters, has left the University for a similar position at Alabama.

“We were very disappointed to see Sid leave,” Wilson said. “After seeing these applicants, there is no question we can get a great replacement.”

Wilson, who also coaches the women’s track team, had 50 applicants to replace Cartwright. The field of candidates has been pared to eight and Wilson will cut the number further after a Thursday meeting.

Under Cartwright’s guidance, junior Tahesia Harrigan became an All-American with a second place finish in the 60-yard dash at the NCAA indoor championships last year.