Women head to Midwest Regional meet looking to go to NCAAs for first time since 2001

by Ben Goessling

After nearly three years of injuries and setbacks, close calls and dashed hopes, it’s somewhat appropriate that this edition of Minnesota’s women’s cross country team would be the one contending for the Gophers’ first NCAA Championships berth since 2001.

Minnesota lost its top runner, Darja Vasiljeva, to a career-ending set of injuries earlier this year. Now, the team is led by Lauren Williams, a junior who missed last year’s Midwest Regional meet with tendonitis in her foot and two stress fractures.

But nevertheless, it’s this

Gophers team, made up of untested freshmen and lightly regarded upperclassmen, that represents Minnesota’s best chance to return to the national meet when it travels for the Midwest Regional meet Saturday to Peoria, Ill.

“I told the team on Thursday night I wouldn’t trade this group for a national championship or a Big Ten championship,” coach Gary Wilson said. “It’s like a war – you want to have someone with you in the foxhole you can trust.”

After a surprising fourth-place finish at the Big Ten meet – their highest since the 2001 season – the Gophers stand a chance to place in the top two Saturday and advance to the NCAA meet, scheduled for Nov. 22 at Indiana State.

The Gophers, who received five votes in the latest coaches’ poll after their fourth-place

finish in the Big Ten meet, could qualify for the national championships as one of the 13 at-large teams to be announced Monday.

“Right now, we’re probably the 35th- or 37th-best team in the country, and only 31 will go. We’re a bubble team right now,” Wilson said. “I know as well as anyone else what’s going on around the country, but we can only control ourselves.”

Men aim for return trip

Minnesota’s men’s cross country team, which has qualified for the NCAA meet five of the last seven seasons, heads to Peoria as a more proven commodity.

But that’s not to say the

men do not have problems of their own.

The Gophers finished behind Iowa at the Big Ten meet Oct. 31 in Iowa City, Iowa, and, because the Hawkeyes are in the Gophers’ region, along with the No. 25 Cowboys, the 22nd-ranked Gophers could be looking at third place.

“We want to know if we’re in on Saturday. We don’t want to (go down the at-large route),” coach Steve Plasencia said.

Plasencia said senior Martin Robeck – out with a hamstring injury – won’t make the trip. The Gophers’ seventh runner will likely be senior Josh DoBell or junior Trent Riter.

Andrew Carlson, who won the region individual title two years ago, figures to duel with Kansas’ Benson Chesang this time around, Plasencia said.

“Andrew and (Chesang) will probably have a little back-and-forth thing,” Plasencia said. “But the race will be decided in the 10th to 25th spots. This one always comes down to our middle runners.”