Minnesota men set to test the waters with new runners at Aztec Invitational in San Diego

The Minnesota women’s cross country team will compete this weekend in the Oz Memorial run in Falcon Heights, Minn. Last year, the Gophers recorded a perfect score of 15 at the event.

Jennifer Whalen

The Minnesota women’s cross country team will compete this weekend in the Oz Memorial run in Falcon Heights, Minn. Last year, the Gophers recorded a perfect score of 15 at the event.

When the Minnesota menâÄôs cross country team hits the starting line this Saturday in California, it will be a race of firsts for the Gophers. Minnesota is set to compete for the first time in the Aztec Invitational âÄî an eight-kilometer race hosted by San Diego State this Saturday. And for three Gophers runners, it will mark their first action with the team. Redshirt freshmen Paul Hilsen and Sean Olson, along with sophomore transfer Ben Blankenship , will compete for Minnesota for the first time in their careers. For Blankenship, it will be the first meet after transferring from Mississippi State. âÄúIâÄôm really excited, this is the first time in my college career that I feel really ready to race,âÄù Blankenship said. âÄúMy training and my fitness level are all on track to have a good race.âÄù It also wonâÄôt help that Minnesota will have to compete without the service of its two All-Americans. Senior Chris Rombough and sophomore Hassan Mead will sit out the competition for the second time this season while junior Michael Barrett will also miss this weekend âÄî neither of the three, though, will miss action due to injury, according to coach Steve Plasencia. âÄúIn HassanâÄôs case, his track season went almost into July and so we have him taking a little break after the track season. I just want to give him a little training time,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúChris has been training with him, and weâÄôre pretty confident that when the bigger meets come up, theyâÄôll be fit and ready to go.âÄù The two All-Americans also sat out the programâÄôs first race âÄî a warm-up meet at St. Olaf two weeks ago. Along with young runners, the Gophers will also run for the first time at Balboa Park, where the National Footlocker Championships were held last winter. âÄúThe course has its oddities âĦ the course is one that combines grass and some trail and dirt and then some concrete,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúWe donâÄôt even know what shoes to bring.âÄù Women host Oz meet The Gophers womenâÄôs team stays home this weekend to compete in the Oz Memorial Run âÄî a meet that Minnesota has strongly defended the past three years and even posted a perfect 15 score last season. Junior Jamie Cheever helped maintain that perfection last season as the defending individual champion after posting a winning time of 21:51.3 in the 6-kilometer course last season . Cheever and junior Heather Dorniden sat out last weekendâÄôs intrasqaud meet after a long track season. âÄúWe were a little behind everyone else over the summer,âÄù Cheever said. The three-time All-American said she and the team arenâÄôt necessarily looking for a repeat of last yearâÄôs perfect meet. âÄúWe just want to build confidence going into the Griak next weekend,âÄù Cheever said. âÄúWeâÄôre just focusing on having a good start (to the season).âÄù The Oz Memorial Run has special meaning to Gophers coach Gary Wilson as it derives its namesake from the late Gary Osborn âÄî a former Drake cross country coach and friend of Wilson. The competition begins at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday with a menâÄôs race to follow.