Gophers win UW-Blugold Invite

Minnesota ran away with the event despite not having its top-tier runners.

Drew Claussen

Competing without its top runners, the Gophers women’s cross country team dominated inferior competition over the weekend to win its third straight event.
Minnesota finished with 34 team points, 26 fewer than Wisconsin-Eau Claire, to win the UW-Eau Claire Blugold Invite. Minnesota was the only Division I team at the event.

The Gophers’ second group of runners carried the team, as their top runners did not make the trip to Eau Claire, Wis.

“I told them afterwards that I think from top to bottom, that’s about the best that group has ever looked,” assistant coach Sarah Hesser said. “Performance-wise, I think we didn’t have any big stragglers, so we were very pleased with the way they ran.”

Hesser said she was not surprised with the performance of the second group. She said a lot of the runners in Minnesota’s second group could be in other teams’ first group.

“There’s definitely some core leaders in that group,” Hesser said. “I think there’s some young ones that are starting to figure it out — we had two freshman in our top three [Friday].”

Redshirt freshman Kate Bucknam and junior Cassy Opitz finished second and third at the event, respectively. Both ran the six-kilometer course in 21 minutes, 47 seconds, Bucknam finished milliseconds ahead of her teammate at the finish line.

“I think [Bucknam and Opitz] work really well together,” Hesser said. “Obviously there was a kid from Eau Claire that was right there with them, and the three of them pretty much broke away from the field.”

Eau Claire’s Ashlyn Mauer won the event with a time of 21 minutes, 42 seconds. Hesser said having another runner in the mix helped prevent Bucknam and Opitz from “running together and not racing.”

The Gophers’ full squad of runners will reunite Saturday for the 27th annual Roy Griak Invitational at Les Bolstad Golf Course.

A strong performance at the Griak, coupled with a strong performance in Eau Claire, could land one of the runners from the second group a spot in the Wisconsin-Adidas Invitational later this season. Racers at the Wisconsin-Adidas typically have an excellent chance of making the roster for the conference meet.