Men place three in top five at Fall Finale

Both teams rested their top runners a week before the NCAA regional.

Minnesota runner Cassy Opitz runs in Rocky’s Run at Les Bolstad Golf Course on Sunday. Opitz was the top woman’s finisher and finished the 6K race in 22:44.

Ichigo Takikawa

Minnesota runner Cassy Opitz runs in Rocky’s Run at Les Bolstad Golf Course on Sunday. Opitz was the top woman’s finisher and finished the 6K race in 22:44.

Drew Claussen

Many Gophers cross country runners got one last chance to compete last weekend.

With both the men’s and women’s teams resting their top runners for the NCAA regional next Friday, this weekend’s races marked the end of the season for those not traveling to Springfield, Mo.

Four men’s runners traveled Friday to Collegeville, Minn., for the Fall Finale.

Three runners from the Gophers’ second group fared well against lesser competition.

Minnesota’s Blayne Dulian won the eight-kilometer event with a time of 25 minutes, 1 second. Alex Brend finished fourth, and Steve Sulkin finished fifth for the Gophers.

Minnesota did not send enough runners to the event to register a team score. South Dakota State was the top-scoring team.

The women competed in Rocky’s Run, an annual six-kilometer charity event held at Les Bolstad Golf Course to honor former University runner Rocky Racette, who was killed in a car crash in 1981.

Junior Cassy Opitz led the Gophers with a time of 22 minutes, 44 seconds in the public race. She was followed by teammates Kate Bucknam and Jamie Vandenberg, who had times of 22 minutes, 50 seconds and 22 minutes, 58 seconds respectively.

“I thought the kids ran really well,” head coach Gary Wilson said. “It’s a little more difficult, too, when the women are running with the guys.”

Opitz said the pace to start the race was fast but more conservative than two weeks ago at Jack’s Run, a similar event. She said by going out faster, the players are training themselves for next season, when they will compete for spots on the Big Ten roster.

“Those really big championship types of races, you’re going to be going out fast,” Opitz said.

Assistant coach Sarah Hesser said she was impressed by how the women paced themselves throughout the race.

“The best thing to see out of this group, especially on this course, is when people look like they have control of the race instead of the race having control of them,” Hesser said.

She said a race like Rocky’s Run is crucial for the program because five or six of the women will make up Big Ten and regional teams in future seasons.

“It’s really important for us as a program to race these guys as much as they can,” Hesser said, “because that’s what they need to learn and develop.”

The race also helps build confidence for the track season, she said.

Wilson said he liked how the women who didn’t make the regional team competed well in their last race. “And that’s all you can ask as a coach,” he said.

The top seven runners from the Big Ten meet will race Friday at the NCAA regional, Wilson said. Three alternates will also travel with the team.