Men’s cross country reloads for a fifth NCAA run

Brian Stensaas

After taking a quick peek at the roster, you may say they are young. And while you’re at it, you may assume they aren’t quite the best of friends yet. However, you may not call them inexperienced.

Losing just one member from the 2000 squad to graduation, the Minnesota men’s cross country team returns its core point scorers from last season’s team – a top-25 finisher at the NCAAs – while gaining six freshmen and one transfer runner.

“After this week of practice I am so much more convinced that this is a good team,” coach Steve Plasencia said. “I don’t think a top-15 finish (NCAA) is outside a possibility for this team.”

The Gophers spent the final week of August in tiny Nevis, Minn., enduring strenuous two-a-day runs and experiencing meals specifically prepared by the coaching staff. They returned to Minneapolis last Friday tired and ready to start the short but important season.

“The situation is a good one up there,” Plasencia said. “It gets the freshmen oriented – we train them hard and when we come back they seem like more of a team.”

This marked the fourth-straight year Plasencia led his troops north for the week-long camp. The formula has paid off in the past as Minnesota made it to the NCAA meet for the fourth consecutive time in 2000.

Along with the incoming freshmen, the training camp was equally valuable for transfer runner Andrew Carlson from Arizona.

“This team has a good chemistry,” he said. “I don’t think too many people know how much of a sport cross country is team-wise.”

As per NCAA D-1 rules, Carlson will be allowed to run this season for the Gophers without having to sit out one year. In football, men’s and women’s basketball and men’s hockey, transfer athletes are forced to sit one season. In every other sport, athletes are granted a one-time immediate transfer with no waiting period.

Three freshmen stand out above the rest and join Carlson on Minnesota’s new faces to watch list. Erik Grumstrup was a three-time South Dakota state champion in cross country and finished 19th at the Footlocker Championships last spring. Trent Riter is the Minnesota high school record holder in the 800-meter run while Ben Hanson can clock a mile in under 4:15.

Back to lead the Gophers are junior Will McComb and senior Andrew McKessock. McComb, Minnesota’s most consistent scorer from last season, is well aware of the leadership label which seems to be tattooed all over his body.

“We have a lot of unexplored talent,” he said. “(Leadership) isn’t all on my shoulders, but I want to use my experience to help out the younger guys.”