Cross-country cruises to finish

by Mark Heller

It’s the two-minute warning in football, the last three innings in baseball and tenth frame in bowling.
And for the Gophers men’s cross country team, crunch time is the next two weeks.
Minnesota will compete in the District 5 Midwest regionals on Nov. 14 in Wichita, Kansas. A first- or second-place finish guarantees the Gophers a place in the NCAA championships in Lawerence, Kan., on Nov. 23.
Anything below second place and No. 15 Minnesota’s chances of getting one of 11 at-large bids will rest in the hands of a committee.
“We’re in a tough region,” senior Michael Stoick said. “Oklahoma State is a very good No. 1 seed. It’s going to take all of us to run well in the same race to win. Anything can happen.”
Regionals run differently than regular season meets. The races are 10 kilometers instead of the usual eight. Of the 25 runners on the team, 12 ran varsity in a regular season meet, and nine ran in the Big Ten championships last weekend. But only the top seven from each school will run in the regionals.
“We don’t have that one superstar on the team,” junior Eric Pierce said. “But we have a deep team. Our sixth and seventh runners are capable of finishing ahead of other team’s higher seeds. That can help take away points.”
The problem is that of the seven runners, only the top five scores are used. If there is a tie between two schools, then the sixth runner’s score from each school is the tie breaker. If it’s still tied, the seventh runner’s times are used.
The combination of two weeks off between the conference and districts championships, and the possible do-or-die circumstances of regionals, makes for a few changes in preparation.
“This week is going to be tough for us,” Pierce said. “We’re not going to run as much in terms of mileage, but we will run more sprints. Then next week we will take it easy to keep ourselves fresh and healthy.”
To the runners, pressure in crunch time is a relative term.
“I think there is some pressure,” Stoick said. “But I think we’ve been better than our ranking indicates. Sometimes pressure helps, it forces you to step it up.”
“I don’t feel any pressure,” sophomore Joey Corr said. “We know we can run well and get in (NCAA championships). I think we’re coming together as a unit at the right time.”