Women try for third-straight Big Ten title

On the men’s side, Hassan Mead defends his spot atop the conference.

Max Sanders

The Minnesota menâÄôs and womenâÄôs cross country team begin the championship portion of their schedule Sunday with the Big Ten Championships. Early season meets featured Gophers Hassan Mead and Megan Duwell dominating the competition, but championship competition may prove to be a little tougher. Held at Penn State University, the No. 15 Gophers womenâÄôs team will try to keep their firm grip on the Big Ten Title. Winners of the last two Big Ten Championships, Minnesota is led by Duwell and fellow senior Jamie Cheever and is considered one of the favorites to take the Big Ten team title. Duwell will also be chasing the Big Ten individual championship in the six-kilometer race. That title has eluded the Gophers, with the last Minnesota runner to capture the honor coming in 1987, when Eileen Donaghy brought home the honors. The top seven overall finishers at the meet Sunday will earn first-team All-Big Ten honors, with runners eight through 14 taking home second-team honors. The Minnesota womenâÄôs cross country team has displayed tremendous consistency at the Big Ten Championships rarely seen in collegiate sports. Of the 28 Big Ten Championships, the Gophers womenâÄôs team has finished in the top five in 21 of those 28 meets. Wisconsin leads the way overall with 13 Big Ten Championships, with Michigan a distant second with eight championships. The GophersâÄô back-to-back championships are the only two Big Ten Championships it has on the womenâÄôs side. Illinois is the highest ranked of six Big Ten Schools heading into the championships at No. 13. The Illini will head to Penn State looking for their first Big Ten Championship. Also ranked are No. 15 Minnesota, No. 18 Penn State, No. 22 Michigan, No. 23 Iowa and No. 27 Michigan State. One minor change to this yearâÄôs tournament on the menâÄôs side is the length of the race. While normally an eight-kilometer race, this year the race has been extended 500 meters putting the total length at 5.2 miles. âÄúI was caught by surprise when I saw the race distance was 5.2 instead of 8k,âÄù menâÄôs head coach Steve Plasencia said in a press release. âÄúRace-wise the longer distance is minor âÄî yet significant âÄî as places could be altered over the last meters. I would think in the future we would want to standardize this.âÄù This will be the final eight-kilometer race of the season for the men as the remaining races including the NCAA Championships will be 10-kilometers. The men enter this year as winners of four Big Ten titles, the most recent coming in 1969. Individually the Gophers have had five runners win a total of nine titles, with the most recent coming from Hassan Mead in 2008. Now a junior, Mead is the unquestioned leader of this yearâÄôs squad, a team that hopes to improve on last yearâÄôs second-place finish which is the best finish of head coach PlasenciaâÄôs Minnesota 13-year career. The Gophers will be facing a steep challenge in looking to win its fifth program title. Wisconsin has been the Goliath of the conference, winning 41 Big Ten team titles including the past 10 consecutive Big Ten Championships. The menâÄôs race will begin Sunday at 9:45 a.m., with the women running Sunday at 10:45 a.m.