Gophers run away from competition at Oz Memorial

Minnesota took the first 16 spots at the meet.

Betsy Helfand

The Gophers’ team goal at the Oz Memorial was to have 22 of the top 25 finishers.

Mission accomplished.

Senior Laura Docherty crossed the line first with a time of 21:48.00 in the 6-kilometer meet, and 15 of her teammates followed before another school had a finisher.

It was Docherty’s second consecutive first-place finish at the Oz Memorial.

Junior Molly Kayfes, senior Maggie Bollig, sophomore Becca Dyson, sophomore Liz Berkholtz, senior Katie Moraczewski and senior Kelli Budd rounded out the top seven for the Gophers.

Minnesota dominated Minnesota State-Mankato, South Dakota State, Drake and North Dakota en route to a perfect team score of 15.

“It’s a little bit unfair,” Gophers head coach Sarah Hopkins said. “[Minnesota] is a big-time Division I school, and these [other schools] are great. They’ve got great programs and great runners, but they’re obviously not as deep as what we’re able to do.”

Senior Rachel Drake said the key to the Gophers’ success was sticking together and not letting runners from other teams get in the pack.

At this point in the season, Hopkins said, it seems like her runners are developing groups of three.

“If each group of three can get some synergy with each other … as they get closer and closer, we can have a group of nine [runners in a pack],” she said.

The Oz Memorial was the No. 19 Gophers’ first meet of the season. They held a 5K Intrasquad meet last week.

Docherty said smaller meets like this one are good because finding teammates in a big race like the Roy Griak Invitational later this month is a challenge.

“It’s nice having these meets,” she said. “It’s just good practice to find that maroon and stick with it.”

Drake said this meet was also helpful for the Gophers to learn how to work with each other with less bodies in the way

“Obviously we know what kind of fitness each other are at so we can say, ‘Alright, this is a good spot for me right now,’” she said.

In a smaller meet like the Oz Memorial, it’s important for a lot of runners to prove themselves and move up on the team, Hopkins said. For top runners, it’s important to experiment with different race strategies.

Sophomore Jamie Piepenburg, who finished eighth, and senior Ashlie Decker, who finished 11th, were the only non-freshmen who ran unattached for the Gophers.

Hopkins said she doesn’t necessarily anticipate having them out of uniform all year, but neither runner has used a redshirt yet, so it’s “wise, as sort of a safety net.”

“If we put a uniform on today, it becomes very difficult to take it back,” she said. “So we just kind of play it a little cautious early on.”

Sulkin leads men’s squad

Senior Steve Sulkin led the way for the men and placed first at the Oz Memorial.

The men rested many of their top runners, but still placed five of the race’s top seven runners.

“We wanted to win the meet because it’s a home meet, so we ran six guys,” head coach Steve Plasencia said. “You need five to score, so we were able to do that, and that was good enough for us right now.”

Sulkin’s time of 19:17.70 was the fastest by a Gophers’ runner at the meet since 2009.

Plasencia said the race helped get the team’s “competitive juices … [flowing] a little bit.”

“This kind of just lets them know, ‘Hey, not so far out from now, we’re going to really start competing,’” he said.

Both the men and the women will race next in the 28th annual Roy Griak Invitational on Sept. 28.