M innesota women’s cross country coach Gary Wilson said this weekend’s race was the opportunity his team needed to prove it has been under-ranked this season.
With a second-place finish in the Blue Race at the Pre-NCAA Meet in Terre Haute, Ind., and a combined sixth-overall finish, the Gophers did more than enough to solidify their claim they’ve been unjustly ranked the 18th best team in the country by the national poll.
“My grandfather always used to say that showing was better than telling,” Wilson said. “We knew we had something to prove and I’m very pleased with how this young team responded”
WHEN: 11 a.m. Saturday
WHERE: Falcon Heights, MN
With its successful showing Saturday, Wilson said he believes his team did plenty to secure a bid to the NCAA Championships in November – which will be held on the same venue as Saturday’s race, the LaVern Course.
Unaware of how his team finished, Wilson said he was surprised when coaches from opposing teams started congratulating him on a second-place finish in the Blue Race.
The Blue Race, which consists of a seven-runner lineup for each team, is the most important event. It helps teams compile points to determine at-large bids for the NCAA Championships. The Gophers finished with 200, placing them in second behind top-ranked Stanford, which blew away its competition with a 45 point total.
Senior captain Emily Brown, Minnesota’s No. 1 runner all season long, once again paced the Gophers with a time of 20:31.5 on the five-kilometer course.
The Gophers placed better than seven teams ranked higher than them – including sixth-ranked Brigham Young, seventh-ranked Princeton and 10th-ranked Providence.
“We’re starting to move up,” Wilson said. “We’re the team that we thought we were (prior to the rankings). (Saturday’s performance) wasn’t a big surprise to me.”
Sophomore Garbriele Anderson, who finished 89th overall in 21:36.4, said the team has been looking forward to an opportunity like this weekend’s meet to showcase its talent, ever since a performance she deemed “disappointing” at the Roy Griak Invitational on Sept. 23.
Wilson said he was most impressed with the effort distributed from all 12 runners brought to the event.
Although no one stood out, he said he was impressed with how the Gophers handled themselves against an extremely high level of competition.
Perhaps the most beneficial part of the weekend for Minnesota was the performances of its youthful runners. For a race Wilson labeled as being more pressure-packed than the national race, he said he was pleased with how they handled themselves.
True freshmen Elizabeth Yetzer (39th) and Amy Laskowske (91st) along with redshirt freshmen Jamie Cheever (48th) and Heather Dorniden (131st) were all major contributors. Wilson said the young runners have continued to demonstrate an increased learning curve as the season has progressed.
“The rookies are really starting to figure everything out,” Wilson said.
Anderson said Saturday’s race should do wonders for Minnesota’s confidence as it approaches the Big Ten and NCAA Championships.
“It makes a huge difference, she said. “I think that little doubt that we had that last year was a fluke is gone now. We know we are still a legitimate team that can do big things.”
Men place third
After a three-week layoff, Minnesota’s men’s cross country returned to action on Saturday, placing third at the Jim Drews Invitational at the Maple Grove Country Club in West Salem, Wis.
The 12th-ranked Gophers (78 points) finished behind top-ranked Wisconsin (37) and No. 7 Portland (41) in the eight-kilometer race.
“I thought it was an okay performance,” coach Steve Plasencia said. “We didn’t perform at the same level we did at the Griak (Invitational) but we had some individuals who did a good job.”
Sophomore Chris Rombough was Minnesota’s best runner with a time of 24:10.12 to finish in second place.
“He’s capable of a lot and he continues to get stronger,” Plasencia said of Rombough.
Plasencia said Saturday’s race can’t be too telling of what’s to come at the Big Ten Championships, considering the Gophers didn’t have No. 1 runner Antonio Vega finish the race and the Badgers didn’t bring three of their top runners.
“I don’t think you can read too much into this meet,” Plasencia said. “(After three weekends off) we are just trying to make sure we become fitter and stronger (before the Big Ten Championships).”