Men celebrate top-10 finish

by Mark Remme

How does one celebrate a top-10 finish at the NCAA men’s cross country championships? A trip to White Castle, of course.

Harold and Kumar would be proud.

That’s exactly where senior Justin Grunewald said the Minnesota men’s cross country team was headed after it got back from placing eighth at the NCAA Championships Monday in Terre Haute, Ind.

The Gophers, who were ranked No. 17 heading in, avenged missing the meet last year by surging into the top 10.

“We’re really pumped,” Grunewald said. “The team really wants to build off this and hopefully be a podium team in the next couple of years.”

Junior Chris Rombough led the pack for Minnesota, finishing 29th overall.

The Gophers were 19th after the first 5 kilometers of the 10-kilometer race. They broke out in the last half of the race.

“We started off a bit too conservative,” Grunewald said.

Top-ranked Oregon won the meet for the first time in roughly three decades. Still, it was Minnesota who found happiness in jumping nine spots to finish the year.

So naturally Grunewald and his crew needed to celebrate in a way that brought them back to his freshman year of college: A competition to see how many White Castle Sliders can be thrown down.

“I don’t know why we started; I think one of the guys hadn’t been there before,” Grunewald joked of the old tradition. “Watch out for Mike Torchia – he might throw a whole Crave Case down.”

Not so lucky

It was a season that loyalists of the women’s cross country team won’t soon forget.

Unfortunately for the fifth-ranked Gophers, they were unable to finish the year by fulfilling their last remaining goal: Finish the NCAA Championships as a top-four team on the podium.

Minnesota took 12th in the race at Terre Haute and closed out its season on a bittersweet note.

Top-ranked Stanford won the meet for the fourth time in five years.

“We were just a little bit off today,” coach Gary Wilson said. “I think we were 10 to 15 seconds off per kid. It was just one of those days.”

Sophomore Jamie Cheever led Minnesota to the finish line in nearly every race she participated in this year, and she was rewarded for that by earning All-America honors at the NCAA meet.

She finished 33rd overall, saying she paced herself at the beginning and used a conservative mentality before making her move in the 6-kilometer race.

“It was very exciting,” Cheever said of becoming an All-American. “But it was disappointing to all of us. Everyone worked as hard as they could.”

The Big Ten champion Gophers were not able to hold off fellow conference foes Monday, as Michigan State finished fifth, Illinois sixth and Iowa 10th.

Still Wilson said despite the disappointment of the day’s finish, he’s happy with the way his team is constantly a threat at the NCAA meet.

“We’re one of the most consistent teams in the country,” he said, noting the team finish ninth two years ago and 11th last year.

The Gophers won seven of the 10 scored races they competed in this year, and with all of their top-10 runners returning next year except for senior Ladia Albertson-Junkans, the team is poised for another run of consistency next fall.

“The consistency of this team is what I’m most proud of,” Wilson said. “They’re a representative team out there; they represent the state of Minnesota well.”