Men win Midwest region; women fourth

Senior Andrew Carlson ran a 29:48 10K to win his second career region meet.

Ben Goessling

The goal all along was for Minnesota’s men’s cross country team to place in the top two Saturday at the Midwest Regional Championships in Peoria, Ill., and qualify for its sixth NCAA Championships berth in eight years.

OK, mission accomplished. But the Gophers didn’t expect to do it in such dominating fashion.

Senior Andrew Carlson won the individual race, running the third-fastest 10-kilometer time in school history (29:48).

Junior Ryan Malmin, lingering in the back of the lead pack, surged to a surprising third, and Minnesota placed five runners in the top 20.

The Gophers finished with 48 points – 31 fewer than second-place Oklahoma State. Iowa, which beat Minnesota at the Big Ten Championships two weeks ago, finished third, 39 points behind the Gophers.

“We had a number of guys that had very good days,” coach Steve Plasencia said. “We had hoped for five in the top 25, and we knew other teams might get that. But five in the top 20 was a bit of a surprise.”

Carlson, who also won the race in 2002, broke from the pack with two kilometers left and beat Kansas State’s Mathew Chesang by just less than 14 seconds.

“Andrew controlled the race and really put the hammer down at the end,” Plasencia said.

Minnesota heads to the NCAA Championships on Nov. 22 not knowing if it will work senior Martin Robeck back into the lineup. But either way, Plasencia expects the team’s preseason goal of a top-15 finish to be within reach.

“Everybody was happy (Saturday), but there was a very workmanlike attitude, like we’ve got more to do,” he said. “This is a veteran group that wants to make a mark for itself, and I think we’ve got a chance.”

Women finish fourth

After he finished adding up results from regional meets around the nation, Minnesota women’s cross country coach Gary Wilson held out little hope for the Gophers to advance to their first NCAA meet since 2001 after a fourth-place finish in Peoria at the Midwest Regional Championships.

Minnesota could still qualify as an at-large team when the 31-school field is finalized today, but Wilson said, “I’m not getting my plane ticket, put it that way.”

For at-large qualifiers, the NCAA uses a formula taking into account how many automatic qualifiers an at-large candidate beat during the season. The at-large teams are then ranked on a points basis, and the top 13 will advance to the NCAA meet in Terre Haute, Ind.

Wilson doesn’t think the Gophers will have enough points to get in, he said.

But that doesn’t mean he’s disappointed with either Saturday’s race or the season.

“We ran a marvelous team race. There was only a 29-second gap between our first and sixth runner. They fought, and they were tough,” Wilson said. “It’s fun to be in the hunt, anyway.”

Junior Lauren Williams was Minnesota’s top finisher, placing 19th, and the Gophers had six runners cover the 6K course in less than 21:44, which Wilson said was a season-best.

But the Gophers were done in by the lack of a front-runner. Their third, fourth and fifth runners scored just one more point than Illinois’ group. But the Illini’s top two runners scored 34 fewer points than the Gophers’, making up most of the 35-point margin between the teams.

Still, Wilson wasn’t complaining too much. After a two-year stretch in which two All-Americans transferred off his track and field team and Darja Vasiljeva, the Gophers’ top cross country runner, retired with injuries, the coach said he is just happy to be back in the fight again.

“Everything that could have gone wrong has now swung the other way,” he said. “This wasn’t the most talented team in the world, but they did everything they possibly could do.

“With this group, it was almost like an instant love affair. I had that with my wife. We were engaged within 70 days of meeting. The instant chemistry this team had is beautiful. You can’t coach that, you can’t buy that, and it makes sports the great thing it is.”

Plasencia scores a coup

Two-time Wisconsin high school champion Chris Rombough signed a national letter of intent to run for the Gophers, Plasencia announced Friday.

Plasencia said the Fremont, Wis., native is one of the top seniors in the country. He will join the team for the fall 2005 season.