Minnesota hosts Midwest Region Championships

Both teams are coming off third-place finishes at the Big Ten Championships.

C.J. Spang

Even though both Minnesota’s men’s and women’s cross-country teams are all but assured at-large bids to the 2006 NCAA Championships, qualifying this weekend wouldn’t hurt.

The Gophers will have home-course advantage as they host the 2006 Midwest Region Cross Country Championships this Saturday at Les Bolstad Golf Course in Falcon Heights. The women’s 6-kilometer race begins at 11 a.m. and the men’s 10-kilometer race starts at 12:15 p.m.

“It’s just nice (to qualify) in terms of inner confidence and our confidence as a team,” junior Ladia Albertson-Junkans said. “To know that we really, truly deserve to go to nationals and we don’t just deserve to go to nationals because we performed well in the beginning of the season.”

The sixth-ranked women’s team is coming off a third-place finish at the Big Ten Championships almost two weeks ago.

The 15th-ranked men’s team also finished third at the Big Ten Championships, but this weekend’s race, as well as the NCAA Championships, are 10-kilometer races, rather than the eight-kilometer races the Gophers have been running all season.

But men’s coach Steve Plasencia said he isn’t too concerned with the longer distance in this race.

“I think in the regional it’s not quite as big a deal because the regional has a tendency to not go out quite as hard,” he said. “But the national meet on the other hand goes out very hard and that’s when the eight to 10 (kilometers) really makes a difference.”

Not only are both squads contenders for the team titles, but both teams have a pair of runners that could win their respective races Saturday.

On the men’s side, senior Antonio Vega is the defending Midwest Region champ, and sophomore Chris Rombough won the Big Ten title two weeks ago.

Because of his performance at the Big Ten Championships, Rombough said his goals for this race have changed.

“Going into Big Tens, I wanted to be around fifth place,” he said. “After winning that, my goal changed from being about top four at regionals to winning it.”

The women’s team also has a pair of runners that could take home the individual crown as well.

Ladia Albertson-Junkans placed second at this race a year ago, while senior Emily Brown was nipping at her heels in third.

So far this season, Brown has been Minnesota’s top finisher in every race she’s competed, while Albertson-Junkans has been second.

It was a similar situation last year, up until the Midwest Regional when Albertson-Junkans got the better of the Brown.

As for a similar outcome this year Albertson-Junkans didn’t make any predictions.

“I think either one of us has a good shot at winning it for sure,” she said.

“You always go in to a race hopefully thinking of the possibility of winning,” she said. “But it is all about competing, so once you get into the actual race you try to compete and hopefully your competitiveness will result in a win – but it doesn’t always though.”