Women travel to Pre-NCAA Meet, men to Jim Drews

The women’s team is ranked No. 18 in the nation and the men are ranked 12th.

Zach Eisendrath

Minnesota women’s cross country coach Gary Wilson said he certainly hopes this weekend isn’t the final time his team graces the LaVern Gibson Course this season.

The Gophers travel to Terre Haute, Ind., to compete in the Pre-NCAA Meet on Saturday on the same course the NCAA Championships will be at in November.

Wilson said Minnesota competes in the Pre-NCAA Meet because of the great competition – there will be 90 teams – but also to allow his runners to get a feel for the course before the NCAA Championships, so they aren’t intimidated on a much larger stage next month.

“We have a very strong belief that we will be back there again,” Wilson said. “It’s always better to be there once before you run the national meet, so there aren’t any surprises.”

The Gophers finished 11th overall at the Pre-NCAA Meet a season ago, but this year’s course is brand new. Senior captain Emily Brown said veteran runners will have to quickly erase their memories from the old course, because this year’s is faster than past years’.

“It’s a brand new course for everybody, so we definitely want to get experience running that as well,” she said.

Wilson and Brown said the Gophers will face their toughest competition thus far this season Saturday. Brown went on to label this weekend’s meet as the “first truly competitive cross country race” of the season for the competing freshmen.

Brown said it is attainable for the Gophers, who should be fresh after 10 of the 12 runners competing this weekend had last weekend off, to finish in the top 10 overall.

“We know this weekend is a great opportunity for us to go and display ourselves to the nation,” she said.

For Minnesota to finish high, Brown said, redshirt freshman Heather Dorniden and sophomore Gabriele Anderson will have to be large contributors. Brown said the team calls them together, the No. 5 runner, since they usually finish so close to each other in time.

“I think we are going to look at those two runners, not really putting any pressure on them, to see how they react,” Brown said. “And I think they will come out on top.”

Wilson said it will take a team effort, not just a few runners, to put Gophers in prime position for a successful meet.

“It’s a complete team effort this year,” he said. “Nobody has got to do anything fancy. There is no need for heroics, because we don’t need that.

“People think they need to run faster or we won’t do good. But we have the luxury of being a very good, solid team, and we don’t need to do anything superhuman to do well.”

Wilson has been critical of many rankings he has seen of his team thus far. Minnesota is currently ranked at No. 18, but Wilson said, like many other teams competing this weekend, the Gophers have an opportunity to prove their critics wrong.

“We just aren’t getting a lot of respect right now,” he said. “I think there are a number of schools that will run at this meet that will show just exactly who they are.”

Men also in action

Minnesota’s men’s cross country team will also compete Saturday. The 12th-ranked Gophers travel to the Jim Drews Invitational at the Maple Grove Country Club in West Salem, Wis.

After three weeks off, coach Steve Plasencia said he will use the 8-kilometer race to gauge the team’s progress after a week’s worth of strenuous practices. A few runners will also be fighting for the final spots on the team’s 12-man Big Ten roster, he said.

Plasencia mentioned rival Wisconsin, ranked No.1 in the latest poll, and eighth-ranked Portland as Minnesota’s biggest competition this weekend.

“I’m looking for us to make improvements,” Plasencia said. “This race is one where there are probably not as many good teams as we’ll face further down, but there are some very good teams.”