Young talent important in Utah meet

Just five of the runners on Minnesota’s roster are upperclassmen.

Chris Lempesis

With only a quarter of its 20-runner roster consisting of upperclassmen, you might think Minnesota’s men’s cross country team is looking to the 2005 season as a rebuilding year.

That, however, is not the case as the Gophers – who have advanced to eight straight NCAA Championships – still believe they are capable of extending their streak to nine.

Actually, just getting back to the NCAAs isn’t even enough, they said.

“I don’t even think it’s fair to say that’s the ultimate goal,” senior Erik Grumstrup said. “I think we have higher expectations than that. Getting to the national meet, to be honest with you, it’s sort of expected now and we expect it of ourselves.”

Grumstrup, along with senior All-American Ryan Malmin, will be looked upon to lead the way until the underclassmen, including 10 freshmen, get their feet wet.

Junior Antonio Vega, who was expected to be a main contributor, is out for at least the early part of the year with a back injury. There is no timetable for his return.

Coach Steve Plasencia said that while this group of leaders might be small, he is confident in their abilities.

“With certain teams, I’d be worried about the leadership situation because of the fact that (we have), what was it, 15 underclassmen – freshmen and sophomores,” he said.

“(But) three of the guys who are coming back are All-Americans in cross country and track and reasonably good people and smart guys.”

Also, Grumstrup said he doesn’t expect too long of a learning curve.

“I think it’s a good group of (young) guys in there,” he said. “(They’re) definitely up to it, so I don’t think it will be inordinately long. I think we’ll see everybody come around and be ready to run as a team fairly soon.”

Good showings from the younger runners will be key for Minnesota as it looks to replace two-time All-American Andrew Carlson, who graduated.

There looks to be a solid core of younger runners who appear willing to take up this challenge.

Malmin mentioned a group of young runners which included sophomore Justin Grunewald and freshmen Ben Puhl and Luke Walker.

The most highly anticipated underclassman, though, is freshman Chris Rombaugh, a two-time Wisconsin Division I high school state champion in who also finished fifth in the 2004 Foot Locker Nationals.

“It will be exciting to watch him,” Malmin said. “He’s definitely unproven on the college scene so far, but he’ll be fun to watch and see what he can do.”

The group, upper- and underclassmen alike, will get its first real chance to shine this weekend at the BYU Autumn Classic on Saturday in Provo, Utah.

“The BYU meet is basically just a chance to see other solid teams that are out there,” Malmin said.

“It’s a good chance to see other college teams and see what college racing is all about.”

It should be the perfect place for the team’s youngsters to see that rebuilding is not a word in the team’s vocabulary; at least not this season.