Minnesota seeks improvements at Big Ten meet

The men look to rebound from last meet’s results.

Minnesota senior John Simons outruns Brigham Young's Jason Witt at the finish of the men's Division I Roy Griak Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, at Les Bolstad Golf Course.

Ichigo Takikawa, Daily File Photo

Minnesota senior John Simons outruns Brigham Young’s Jason Witt at the finish of the men’s Division I Roy Griak Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, at Les Bolstad Golf Course.

Betsy Helfand

The Gophers women’s cross country team heads to the Big Ten championships fresh off an eighth-place finish at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational.

After that race, head coach Sarah Hopkins said she was thrilled with the results, but the team wasn’t yet at its best. Her runners agreed.

“We all know that none of us had our best day,” senior Laura Docherty said. “No one did bad, but we all know that we have a lot more. So that was also really encouraging.”

The Gophers finished behind one other Big Ten team at that meet and ahead of three others.

Minnesota is ranked 15th in the nation, behind just Michigan State and Michigan in the Big Ten.

The Gophers finished fourth at the Big Ten championships last year, but this year they think they have enough depth and experience to finish higher.

“I think anytime you walk into the Big Ten championships, your goal is to win it just because it does mean a lot,” Hopkins said. “I think realistically, we’re a top-three team.”

She said she told the runners the team could toe the line and run a great race and win — or run a great race and finish third.

“We can’t control that part of it. We just have to control our race,” Hopkins said.

Junior Molly Kayfes said another team goal is to have three to five runners garner All-Big Ten honors.

“[Docherty] did it last year, and I know we can have more girls do it this year,” Kayfes said.

Making All-Big Ten requires finishing in the top 14. Kayfes said her personal goal would be to make All-Big Ten.

Docherty finished ninth individually last year and was Minnesota’s first finisher. She said she’d like to improve on that this year.

“I’m hoping to be anywhere in the top,” Docherty said. “It could be first or second; it could be ninth or 10th. But it just is going to depend on the day, I guess.”

Docherty and Kayfes have led the Gophers all season. The group Minnesota is sending to West Lafayette, Ind., is highly experienced and filled with upperclassmen.

Hopkins said many of the runners in the group have run at least two, if not three, Big Ten championships before, which will be an advantage for the team.

“To have a group that’s been there before that knows what’s going on … you can’t coach that. You can’t teach that,” Hopkins said.

Men look to bounce back

The Gophers men’s team had a rough weekend at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational a couple of weeks ago, finishing 29th out of 35 teams.

But the runners are looking to put that finish behind them and focus on what has worked for them in the past.

“We’re just trying to shake it off,” senior John Simons said. “I think that everybody understands that for whatever reason, just about everybody on our team had a rough day, and those things can happen.”

Minnesota head coach Steve Plasencia said he thinks the group can use the poor finish from a couple of weeks ago as motivation for the Big Ten championships.

“When your pride gets bruised a little bit, you kind of want to come back and show people, ‘This isn’t what we are,’” Plasencia said.

Simons, the team’s top runner this season, finished 257th overall.

Plasencia said he thinks Simons will rebound this weekend.

“I think in any given year, you can allow one bad one,” Plasencia said. “I think that happens to guys. I know that happened to myself as a competitor.”

Simons finished 11th individually at the Big Ten race last year, and he said he wants to be competing for the win this year.

“I know I had a pretty rough weekend last week,” Simons said. “But I think I’m going to shake it off, and I’m definitely one of the guys who should be competing for a top-three spot, if not for the individual crown.”