Ailing Gophers play host to Oz Memorial Run

Minnesota isn’t too worried about winning in its first competitive race.

David McCoy

When Minnesota’s women’s cross country team takes to the course at 11 a.m. Saturday for the Oz Memorial Run, its runners will be facing an all-too-familiar enemy – their own bodies.

The race takes place at Les Bolstad Cross Country Course. Coach Gary Wilson said the team’s first meet of the year is supposed to be a chance to see exactly where his team is standing.

“It’s to see what we’ve got in terms of the team, to do some comparative analysis from last year,” he said. “It’s just kind of an opener, without being hugely intense in terms of competition among the teams.”

But that will be hard to do, seeing as how most of the Gophers’ star power is hurting in one form or another.

Fifth-year senior Darja Vasiljeva is coming back for her first race after missing the entire 2003 season with a hamstring injury that required surgery.

Last year’s team’s most valuable runner, senior Zoe Nagell, is struggling with an iron deficiency problem and will be on prescription pills for the race.

And sophomore standout Emily Brown, the team’s rookie of the year last year, is coming off of a second foot surgery in April. It is the same kind of surgery that forced her to redshirt in 2002.

This time, however, it’s on her other foot.

Nagell said her iron problem is because she had mononucleosis last spring, which caused her to miss the outdoor track season. She said her body was just trying to absorb all the extra iron it could.

She also said there are many other women on the team who have a similar problem.

“We have a little bit of low iron, and that’s generally from not having enough food with iron in it like red meat or other foods,” she said. “But I’m going to go on prescription iron, and the rest of the people might too. Or maybe will just try to up their iron intake.”

Wilson said Brown and Vasiljeva are progressing, and he is looking forward to big things from them toward the end of the year, when it counts most.

“We’re just trying to progress them slowly. This is all about trying to get ready for the end of the season,” Wilson said. “(Emily) and Darja are both significant contributors to this team, and if we can get those kids to even 90 percent of what they did last year, they’re going to really help.”

Brown said that for her, this race is not about winning, but rather about getting her legs back under her.

“I’ve only been running for a month, and so my fitness level isn’t quite there,” she said. “And just keeping up with the workouts is hard enough. I’m just going to try my best, taking it easy, not trying to push anything early on, because it’s not all that important compared to the end of the season.”

Race details

The Oz Memorial Run is named after Coach Wilson’s late friend, Gary Osborn, the former coach at Drake. Along with Drake, the Gophers will compete against Division II Minnesota State-Mankato and Division III Bethel.

Wilson said his runners are not focusing on their competition, but rather on themselves.

“Drake is going to be pretty young, so it may not be quite as team-competitive,” he said. “I think the biggest thing is going to be how our individuals race and put themselves out there and push the pace regardless of who is going to run team-wise.”