Women head to Ann Arbor to defend Big Ten title

With seven teams ranked in the national top 21, repeating as Big Ten champions this Sunday in Ann Arbor, Mich. wonâÄôt be easy for the Minnesota womenâÄôs cross country team. The Gophers captured the first conference title in school history last season and if national polls give a hint, theyâÄôre favored to repeat this year. The No. 7 Gophers are the top-ranked team competing this weekend, but the rest of the field isnâÄôt far off. No. 8 Michigan, No. 9 Michigan State and No. 10 Illinois will all try to spoil MinnesotaâÄôs attempt to bring home a second title for Homecoming. âÄúItâÄôs definitely going to be a close race,âÄù junior Megan Duwell said. âÄúItâÄôs going to be exciting to say the least.âÄù The Gophers have only seen the Spartans so far this season, having beat out Michigan State by the narrow margin of 17 points for third place at the Pre-NCAA Meet. The Gophers only lost one runner from last yearâÄôs Big Ten roster, but when that runner was Ladia Albertson-Junkans , who paced Minnesota with a tenth-place finish at last yearâÄôs conference meet; the difference plays a big factor in the Gophers chances of repeating. Men prepare for Big Tens The Minnesota menâÄôs cross country team will also be in Ann Arbor competing in the Big Ten championships. This year might be the Gophers best and last chance to dethrone Wisconsin, which has won the last nine conference competitions and 20 of the last 23 dating back to 1985. Minnesota was close to knocking off the Badgers last season when Hassan Mead and Chris Rombough both finished in the top-five. Unfortunately for the Gophers, all five of WisconsinâÄôs scorers recorded finishes in the top-ten to secure the championship. This year with Rombough in his senior season, time is running out for the Fremont, Wisc. native, who won the Big Ten individual title in 2006, to help Minnesota earn its first Big Ten championship since 1969. âÄúOne of the reasons I came here is to help the team reach the next level,âÄù Rombough said. âÄúThis year, we have one of the best teams weâÄôve had in a while, and we have a good chance at winning.âÄù Weekend schedule The womenâÄôs competition begins at 9:45 a.m. (CDT) on Sunday while the men will follow at approximately 10:30. The Big Ten Network will televise portions of the championship races Sunday on the Big Ten Tonight Show at 9 p.m. (CDT) and Monday evening at 6:30 on the Big Ten WomenâÄôs Show. The U-M Golf Course will host both races.