Women’s cross country finishes 19th at Griak

by Lou Raguse

On the bright side, Minnesota’s women’s cross-country team was vocal; redshirt freshman Emily Brown continued her solid running, and senior captain Anita Menden finished the race.

But the team was hoping to place higher than 19th at the Roy Griak Invitational in St. Paul on Saturday.

“At the beginning of the season, we thought top 10 or top 12 in this race would be good,” coach Gary Wilson said. “We fought all day, but we didn’t start out aggressive enough.”

Minnesota is still getting used to a new style of running – together in packs without one lead runner. Although no Minnesota runner finished in the top 50, coach Wilson was pleased with his team’s improvement over the last two weeks.

“Our inexperienced kids are running pretty darn well, and our veterans are starting to step it back up again,” Wilson said.

For Menden, who struggled at the Oz Memorial Run on Sept. 13, just finishing the race was a big step. Now she hopes to keep on track for the rest of the season.

“Race-wise, it wasn’t one of my best, but I’m glad I have one under my belt,” Menden said.

Brown continued her personal successes, once again finishing first for the team. She and sophomore Harper McConnell ran side by side for much of the race and finished seven seconds apart.

“I actually thought we would be in a pack more, but it seemed impossible to do with so many athletes out there,” Brown said. “I was working with Harper, and at about the 5K we kept moving to try and get some places.”

From the start and through the first half of the 6,000-meter course, sophomore Jen Hess was the Gophers’ frontrunner, slightly ahead of Minnesota’s first pack. She then fell back slightly and finished third for the team.

“At 3K I was right at my goal pace,” Hess said. “I struggled between the 3 and 4K marks, but I got tough again after that.”

Minnesota finished with 514 points. Arizona State won the event with 103.

“I guess the quote of the day is that we are a ‘work in progress,'” Wilson said. “And the key is that we are making progress.”

Wilson described this season as two-week increments, from the Oz Memorial to the Griak, the pre-NCAA, the Big Ten and the Midwest Regional.

“These last two weeks, we’ve improved mentally and physically maybe 15 percent,” Wilson said. “And if we can improve another 15 percent each of these two-week segments, by the time we get to the region meet, we’ll be running on all cylinders.”

Providence junior Kim Smith won the Griak race with a time of 20:17, a new women’s Griak 6K record. Second-place finisher Missy Buttry of Wartburg also broke the previous record.

Wilson said compared to last year’s Griak, finishing times across the board were 20 seconds faster.

Griak enjoys celebration

Roy Griak was on hand Saturday to observe the meet named in his honor.

“I think it went just great,” he said. “One coach came up to me and said that it’s the best meet ever.”

On Friday, friends, co-workers and family held a birthday celebration for Griak, who will turn 80 on Sunday.

Countless former athletes came from all parts of the country to honor Griak and watch the race Saturday.