Men and women in very different spots heading into Big Tens

Derek Wetmore

The menâÄôs and womenâÄôs cross country teams will have different tasks this weekend, even if the title of the race is the same. Both teams will travel to Verona, Wisc., just outside Madison, to compete in the Big Ten Championships on Sunday. But after starkly different results at the pre-NCAA meet, expectations are different for each team. The menâÄôs team struggled to a 12th-place finish while the womenâÄôs team continued the trend of exceeding expectations, taking fifth. For the men, that makes it even more crucial to beat teams within the conference in order to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA championships. âÄúIf we have anything to prove, itâÄôs to ourselves,âÄù menâÄôs head coach Steve Plasencia said, adding that itâÄôs still too early in the season to consider it a disappointment. Plasencia wonâÄôt let his team become pessimistic, but failure to secure some at-large points this weekend could jeopardize its chances in the objective process of landing an NCAA tournament bid. The womenâÄôs team, on the other hand, is looking to build on its pre-NCAA finish and is one of four teams head coach Gary Wilson said have a realistic shot at winning. âÄúI really think on paper the Big Ten could be won by any one of four teams,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúI think if you ran all four teams head-to-head four times, you might have four different results.âÄù As usual, the team will be without two-time Big Ten champion Hassan Mead, who took a redshirt this season due to a nagging AchillesâÄô heel injury. âÄúWeâÄôve known for some time that Hassan would not be with us this weekend. WeâÄôve all put that injury behind us. These are the guys weâÄôre going with,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúWeâÄôre not going to go down and ruminate after the fact that we donâÄôt have Hassan.âÄù Senior Mike Torchia injured his calf at the pre-NCAA meet two weeks ago and saw a doctor for what Plasencia described as a âÄúcold-like illness,âÄù but is ready to compete this weekend, according to Plasencia. The womenâÄôs team is in the same boat in lacking experience. Last yearâÄôs squad had a combined 23 Big Ten races of experience on the nine-person roster. This yearâÄôs team has just five. One of the most experienced runners, Nikki Swenson, doesnâÄôt think itâÄôll be a problem. âÄúOn paper I think we are just as talented as other people,âÄù Swenson said. âÄúThereâÄôs no reason why we canâÄôt compete in the Big Ten [Championships].âÄù Wilson was quick to warn that the race is âÄúnot run on paper,âÄù and that the teamâÄôs young members need to prove the early season has not been a fluke. Junior Steph Price has been the teamâÄôs top runner this season, and as another member with previous Big Ten experience, Wilson said he expects her to be among the top finishers. Price is a two-time Big Ten Runner of the Week already this year and finished second in the Griak Invitational and sixth at pre-NCAAs. The competition in those meets was stiffer than it figures to be at this weekendâÄôs Big Tens, where parity rules, Wilson said. With only one meet before NCAA regionals, Big Tens offer one of the final chances to right the ship. âÄúI donâÄôt really think itâÄôs a season thatâÄôs gone awry,âÄù Plasencia said, noting that the team has competed in only three serious meets. âÄúIn my mind November is always the month that determines what kind of cross country season you have and this year it starts on the 31st of October. The question that really lies ahead is what weâÄôre going to do this weekend, being the first step into the heart of our season.âÄù