Opitz places first at Jack’s Run while top runners rest

Proceeds from Saturday’s race were given to multiple charities.

Junior Cassy Opitz runs at the Les Bolstad Golf Course on Saturday. Opitz was the first women's finisher and crossed the line in 22:30.01.

Ichigo Takikawa

Junior Cassy Opitz runs at the Les Bolstad Golf Course on Saturday. Opitz was the first women’s finisher and crossed the line in 22:30.01.

Drew Claussen

No other teams competed, but Gophers athletes were smiling like they won after Jack’s Run on Saturday.

The reason for the jovial attitudes and lack of competing teams was that Jack’s Run is a charity race. Proceeds from the event, which was held at Les Bolstad Golf Course, were given to multiple charities.

The race is named in honor of Jack Johnson, who died of cancer in 2006. Johnson was the longtime equipment manager for the Gophers.

“He loved this team — he would have loved to have been here,” head coach Gary Wilson said. “He just thought these kids were the best, and you think about him a lot.”

One of the charities supported by the race was the Jack Johnson Endowed Scholarship.

“He was always for the underdog and the kid that wasn’t the all-star,” Wilson said. “That’s why the scholarship was named after him because it was always given to somebody who came as a walk-on or a small scholarship kid.

“He could always look at a kid and go, ‘I think this kid’s going to be good,’ and then you’d go, ‘Yeah right, Jack,’” Wilson added. “And then two years later the damn kid would be on a scholarship.”

The race was open to the public. The entire Gophers women’s team ran in the event, excluding those who are slated to run in next week’s Big Ten championships.

Cassy Opitz won the women’s division with a strong race. She ran the six-kilometer course in 22 minutes, 30 seconds.

“We just really wanted to stay focused because right now we’re in peak, tip-top shape,” Opitz said. “I just wanted to go in aggressive and really push the pace in the beginning.”

Wilson said he was impressed with Opitz’s performance. She spent much of last season with the top group but has been relegated to the second group this season. Wilson said he believes she was overthinking things, and he told her to “shut the hell up and run.”

Kate Bucknam, Annie Talajkowski, Jamie Vandenberg and Kaitlin Mincke rounded out the top five for the Gophers.

Although none of the runners will be competing in the postseason, Wilson said it was important for everyone to keep running strong.

“It’s really easy to be a scholarship kid going to the Big Ten,” Wilson said. “It’s not easy to come out every day and work hard to try to get better, and that’s what [the second group] is doing.”