Two states, two races, two first places

The men’s cross country team stole victories in Utah and Wisconsin.

Zach Eisendrath

Saying the Minnesota men’s cross country team had a good first weekend of competition would be a gross understatement.

The Gophers, who were split between meets in River Falls, Wisc. and Provo, Utah, took first place in not one but two events over the weekend.

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Mens roy griak invitational
when: 12:20 p.m. Sept. 29
where: Falcon Heights, Minn.

On Friday Minnesota demolished its competition, taking the top-three places at the 10,140 meter Wisconsin River Falls Triangular.

And on Saturday, coach Steve Plasencia’s squad did something it has never done before – win the BYU Autumn Classic.

The Gophers claimed three of the first five spots in the race to finish with a team score of 26 points, narrowly beating out host Brigham Young which finished with a team total of 30.

Junior Chris Rombough placed first overall in the four-mile race, covering the course with a time of 19:65.5. Freshman Hassan Mead finished third overall with a time of 19:32 in his collegiate debut.

Rombough said beating a perennial top-10 cross country powerhouse like the Cougars is an exciting season beginner.

“It was obviously a great way to start the season,” he said. “To beat a team like BYU at their own place, while running at a higher altitude, is a positive start.”

The higher altitude, which accompanies running in the Southwest, was a concern to many of the runners before the race, Rombough said.

But Plasencia told the team to run the race like any other meet, advice that evidently worked.

“The higher altitude was tough on everyone, but we made it through it all right,” Rombough said.

Plasencia said he has believed throughout the early season that his team has the potential to be special this year, thoughts that were reaffirmed this season.

“It’s a pretty good start to the season, but you can’t get too excited in September,” Plasencia said. “But it’s good to know that our team did its homework over the summer and that there are possibilities for this team.”

Women cruise

The Minnesota women’s cross country team had little trouble holding off its competition during the Gophers’ season opening meet this weekend.

Despite being without the services of senior All-American Ladia Albertson-Junkans due to a slight illness, coach Gary Wilson’s team took the top 10 spots at the six-kilometer

Oz Memorial Run at Les Bolstad Golf Course in St. Paul on Saturday and held off second-place South Dakota State by a whopping 60 points to win the meet.

Junior Jamie Cheever placed first, with a time of 21:51.3. Junior Gabriele Anderson finished second in a time of 22:03.2 and sophomore Elizabeth Yetzer (22:33.1) came in third place.

Wilson said the way his team raced Saturday – with the Gophers’ top 12 runners separated by under two minutes – might be an indication of what type of team Minnesota will field this year.

“The depth is really going to be our forte and our (small) gap (between runners) will be a huge difference for us,” he said.

While the Gophers dominated their competition physically, Wilson was more concerned with how his team responded emotionally at its first competitive meet.

Wilson said he had countless talks with his squad between last weeks intrasquad meet and the Gophers’ first race of the year, in order to make sure his runners were mentally prepared.

“I told them, ‘you’re here to do a job, this is a big-time blue-collar sport, if you are crying and complaining and having a lot of drama, you won’t get any place. This is a sport for women. You can’t be needy in this sport,’ ” Wilson said.

“I told them they have to pick themselves up when they are down, and that’s what they did.”