Just eight days after the Gophers placed second at the Midwest regional meet, securing an automatic bid to the NCAA championships, the team fell far short of its top-20 goal.
The Gophers placed last at the NCAA championships Saturday, and redshirt junior Becca Dyson said the team was disappointed with the way it raced.
“I definitely don’t think we were happy with what happened,” Dyson said. “I think it was kind of just a tough day from the get-go.”
Dyson finished 132nd overall and second on the team behind fellow redshirt junior Liz Berkholtz.
Only two runners on the team ran in the NCAA championships last year, and Berkholtz said she thought the inexperienced Gophers were nervous going into the race.
“On paper, [the results look] pretty awful. It was definitely like a deer in the headlights for some people,” Berkholtz said.
Minnesota has struggled throughout the season with getting into position quickly, and head coach Sarah Hopkins said the team fell flat doing that on Saturday.
Saturday’s meet included 253 competitors, and Dyson said the team’s inability to quickly get out into good positions with the number of runners present was a big factor in the way the team placed.
“If we didn’t get out hard, we were going to get swallowed, and it sounds like that was kind of what happened,” Dyson said.
The silver lining for Minnesota was an act of kindness by redshirt junior Kate Bucknam.
In the final stretch of the race, Bucknam put a struggling Baylor University runner’s arm around her and helped walk her across the finish line.
Hopkins said Bucknam’s actions speaks to her character.
“That’s who Kate is. This sport in general, everybody has a common bond no matter what team you’re on, and when it comes down to it, everybody wants to see everybody have a great day and compete against everybody at their best,” Hopkins said. “When somebody [is] struggling, you do whatever you’re capable of doing to help.”
Bartnik wraps up season at NCAAs
Redshirt junior Aaron Bartnik capped off a much-improved season with a 135th-place finish at the NCAA championships.
“I was disappointed. I didn’t accomplish what I wanted to accomplish,” Bartnik said.
Bartnik was the lone Gophers runner competing at the meet, and he said the competition would have been better if the team had been there.
Head coach Steve Plasencia said Bartnik was feeling a bit ill prior to the race, which may have aided in his poor race performance.
“Anytime things don’t go the way you want them to go, you’re searching for answers. I don’t think there was any one thing you could put your finger on. Anytime you get into the NCAA championship for the first time, it’s a different experience,” Plasencia said.
Bartnik said the competitive field also contributed to his finish.
“When I went in today not bringing my ‘A’ game, it definitely showed. The depth of the field definitely made my poor race look even worse,” Bartnik said.
Though he’s disappointed with how he ran, Bartnik said wants to take direction from the race and apply it to his races going forward.
“My biggest takeaway is to know that things aren’t always going to go my way. You have to accept that and just know that not every race is going to be your best race,” Bartnik said.