High ranking heightens expectations

by Chris Lempesis

Finishing ahead of all but one of the six ranked teams at Saturday’s Roy Griak Invitational figured to put Minnesota’s women’s cross country team, previously unranked, into the top 30.

But few, if anyone, expected this.

The strong performance shot the Gophers up the poll, entering this week’s rankings as the No. 11 team in the country.

“To go from unranked to 11th is actually kind of weird,” junior Emily Brown said. “I don’t think we were expecting to get that high.”

That being said, this particular group of Gophers came into the 2005 season with high hopes – higher than ever, in fact – and the high ranking shows those preseason expectations were not for nothing.

A talented group of upperclassmen, including Brown and seniors Lauren Williams and Harper McConnell (along with sophomore Ladia Albertson-Junkans), was a big reason the bar was raised.

“We’ve got, basically, the same group of kids that we’ve always had,” coach Gary Wilson said. “But they were young.

“(Now) we’ve got people that are veterans. And when you have a veteran team, you better (have high hopes) or else there’s something wrong.”

However, that collective talent and experience was only part of the equation.

McConnell pointed to the team’s fourth place finishes in both the Big Ten Championships and the NCAA Midwest Region Championships last season as an early sign that 2005 might have a lot of promise.

“(At regionals) the spread between our No. 1 runner and our No. 6 runner was a matter of like 15 or 20 seconds or something like that,” McConnell said. “We all realized that we could run really well together as a group.”

While the top group has continued to run well so far this season, it contains only four runners. Minnesota is looking to solidify a top group of five runners.

A number of candidates seem able to fit this role, with senior Jen Hess – the team’s fifth-place finisher at the Griak – most likely.

Whomever she ends up being, Brown said she expects her to be running with the top group soon.

A strong fifth runner could vault Minnesota even higher in the rankings than it is now. Not that those things mean much to Wilson.

He knows teams can fall as quickly as they rise.

“It’s a waste of time to go, Well, you know, we’re 11th ranked in the country. Who cares?” Wilson said.

“Nobody’s walking out there with your press releases going, Look at, you’re 11th in the country! About that time you’re getting your butt handed to you by somebody.”

Brown wins honor

Thanks to her ninth-place finish at the Griak on Saturday, Brown was named the Big Ten Conference Runner of the Week.

She finished with a time of 21:17. The time was a personal best for the junior. In addition, it was the eighth-fastest 6-kilometer time in school history.