Gophers head to NCAA regional

Both the men's and women's team will try to qualify for the national meet this weekend.

Junior Aaron Bartnik runs the final stretch of the Division 1 Men's race at the Roy Griak Cross Country Invitational at the Les Bolstad Golf Course on Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014.

Liam James Doyle

Junior Aaron Bartnik runs the final stretch of the Division 1 Men's race at the Roy Griak Cross Country Invitational at the Les Bolstad Golf Course on Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014.

Matt Greenstein

With a seventh-place finish at the Big Ten championships in the rearview mirror, the Gophers are going into the NCAA Midwest regional meet on Friday and focusing on qualifying for nationals.

Redshirt junior Christian Skaret said the team has to use the poor performance at the conference championships as fuel for improvement at regionals.

“Any time you go home with your tail between your legs, that feeling definitely sticks in your mind for quite some time,” he said. “We definitely want to use it as motivation.”

Redshirt junior Aaron Bartnik said the team is all business in preparation for the meet.

“With our last two performances being subpar, we’re going into this race as a business trip,” he said. “We have work to do, and there won’t really be any funny business. We need to perform and try to qualify for nationals.”

Although head coach Steve Plasencia has said the season is a continuing process, he said the team’s performance at the Big Ten championships was a step in the wrong direction.

“We got out too hard and went backwards,” he said.

Plasencia said he hopes the team can stick to its strategy this time around, which Bartnik described as “conservative.”

“We need to run a smart race and run tough,” Plasencia said.

The Gophers haven’t reached the national meet since 2011.

“We want to get this team back to national prominence,” Skaret said. “We don’t want to be the team that keeps the nationals losing streak going. We want to be the team that breaks that.”

Business as usual for women

Head coach Sarah Hopkins said the team’s main objective is the same as the men’s: making it to nationals.

The Gophers are looking for a NCAA championship berth for the 10th consecutive year.

“We need to go in and do what we’re capable of doing,” Hopkins said. “People are focused and ready to go but ready to put in the work.”

Redshirt junior Liz Berkholtz said the team needs to keep an open mind for the obstacles it will have to overcome.

“Everyone just has to keep doing what they’ve been doing — just reacting to the elements and being flexible,” Berkholtz said. “Just running your race and knowing your gut feeling of when you’re supposed to go.”

Throughout the season, the team has emphasized fast starts.

Redshirt junior Becca Dyson said that is something she wished she had done better at the Big Ten championships.

“[That was] a critique of myself,” she said. “I definitely like to start off a little slower.”

The Gophers finished fifth at the Big Ten championships, and Hopkins said the team has been working hard at practices with the hope of starting faster.

“We did some workouts this past week where we did some faster than race pace stuff, and hopefully that’s getting them more comfortable with the faster paces,” Hopkins said. “Hopefully that’s given them some confidence to get out a little bit harder.”

She said the team needs to stick to its strategy in order to succeed at the meet.

“We just need to get out well. It is a pretty flat course, so we [have to] get out in a good position,” Hopkins said.

Berkholtz also said the team’s success will hinge on its ability to follow its strategy.

“For us to be successful, I think that we all need to run the best way we can run,” she said. “And if we can do that, our team is going to be very hard to beat.”