Men finish second, Brown places third at Griak

Redshirt freshman Matt Barrett’s 23rd-place finish was key for the men’s team.

Chris Lempesis

At Saturday’s Roy Griak Invitational, Minnesota’s men’s cross country team was one of nine top-30 squads competing in the Men’s Gold Race.

The Gophers finished ahead of all but one of them.

Minnesota, ranked 23rd in the nation, claimed a second-place finish with 153 points in the eight-kilometer meet, held at Les Bolstad Golf Course. Only eighth-ranked Arizona topped Minnesota, winning the meet with 142 points.

“It’s a great confidence booster,” sophomore Chris Rombough said. “Last year we were seventh and thought we did pretty well and taking second this year is Ö I don’t know what to say.

“I was kind of surprised,” he said.

Surprised as he might be, Rombough was one of the biggest reasons for the Gophers’ strong performance. Rombough, along with senior Antonio Vega, contributed valuable points to Minnesota’s team total. Rombough finished 13th (24 minutes, 58 seconds), and Vega finished 12th (24:56).

But it was the showing of redshirt freshman Matt Barrett that was more indicative of the Gophers’ surprising team finish.

Barrett, running in his first big varsity race, claimed a 23rd-place finish (25:23).

“It was important for us to have him (finish well),” coach Steve Plasencia said. “Because he just said he was going to stay with Rombough (in the race) and I was a little bit, ‘Oh, don’t go out too hard, buddy,’ and he did it and hung on nicely.”

Minnesota also had solid showings from freshman Mike Torchia (49th, 25:51), who won the high school race last year, and sophomore Ben Puhl (56th, 25:54).

As strong as those five ran, none of them could catch Liberty junior Josh McDougal. McDougal won the men’s race with a time of 24:15.

The win didn’t come easy for the All-American, however, as Liberty didn’t get into town until late Friday night, giving McDougal little time to observe the course.

“I saw some of the course before (the race),” McDougal said, “but about 3K through the rest of the race, I was running blind. I didn’t know where I was.”

Unfortunately for McDougal, his team didn’t have the same type of depth as the Gophers, earning just a 14th place finish.

And it’s that kind of depth – five runners in the top 60 of a race that had 301 finishers – that could make finishes like the one on Saturday exponentially less surprising as the season moves on.

“That’s what I really like about this team,” Plasencia said. “The fact that there’s a number of guys who can come in there (and perform well).”

Women finish fourth

Minnesota’s women’s cross country team couldn’t quite equal the performance of the men’s squad in the six-kilometer Jack Johnson Women’s Gold Race at the Griak on Saturday, earning a fourth-place finish.

The Gophers earned 137 points. California-Santa Barbara won the team competition with 87 points.

“It’s OK,” coach Gary Wilson said. “We’ve got some work to do. I think we had a little too much hype around things.”

By “hype,” Wilson said he meant that he thought the many Minnesota-born youngsters on the roster were distracted by friends and family attending the meet.

That doesn’t mean Minnesota was without strong individual performances. In fact, the Gophers had a pair.

Senior Emily Brown (21:17) and junior Ladia Albertson-Junkans (21:41) finished third

and eighth, respectively, and continue to be the leaders of the youthful Minnesota bunch.

Those two finishes were good, but not quite as good as those by California-Santa Barbara seniors Stephanie Rothstein and Lauren Christman.

Rothstein (21:13) and Christman (21:13) went one-two in the race as the Gauchos placed three runners in the top 10.

“(Lauren and I) just ran a very smart race,” Rothstein said. “We started out like, top 20, in the beginning. That’s kind of how we run races – conservative, then come from behind.”