Men, women battle flu on eve of Pre-NCAA Meet

Both teams look to gain at-large points for nationals.

by Max Sanders

Two days before the pre-NCAA meet, both the menâÄôs and womenâÄôs cross country teams are trying to cope with an issue off the trail: the flu. Both teams are dealing with varying degrees of sickness, ranging from season flu to two confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus. On the menâÄôs side, head coach Steve Plasencia said two members of his team caught H1N1 from a roommate, and those runners are now isolated from the rest of the team to prevent further spreading of the virus. Despite the confirmed cases, Plasencia is confident that his top runners, including juniors Hassan Mead and Ben Blankenship , will be ready for the meet in Indiana on Saturday. âÄúH1N1 has hit a couple of guys, but basically the top three guys at the Griak meet have all continued to train well,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúThey havenâÄôt had any problems, [which is] obviously very crucial for us right now.âÄù PlasenciaâÄôs squad has not competed since the Griak Invitational nearly three weeks ago. Instead of scheduling meets during that break, Plasencia has his team training hard, running nearly 85 miles per week. âÄúYou want to build up a lot,âÄù he said. âÄúWeâÄôre getting into some harder interval work, but itâÄôs all a progression; I actually kind of like that three-week training period.âÄù Broken up into two races, the pre-NCAA meet is a chance to gain at-large points, which are used to determine the 13 at-large teams selected to participate later in the season at the NCAA Championships. While regional winners qualify automatically for the NCAA Championships, the pre-NCAA meet provides a chance for teams to gain insurance, in case they do not gain an automatic bid. As a member of the Midwest Region, which features multiple national powerhouses including last yearâÄôs No. 2 team in the country, Oklahoma State, Plasencia knows that his team has to take advantage of every chance Minnesota gets at gaining at-large points. âÄúWe have four teams ranked ahead of us in [our] region right now; two of them have been in the top 10 in the country,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúWeâÄôve got to be prepared to run at the regional race well, and as an insurance policy, pick up some points now.âÄù On the womenâÄôs side, head coach Gary WilsonâÄôs team is coming off a second-place finish at the Griak Invitational and a first-place finish at the South Dakota State Classic two weeks ago. While no members of WilsonâÄôs team have acquired the H1N1 virus, Wilson said senior Jamie Cheever is experiencing flu-like symptoms that have existed for a couple of weeks. Normally among the Gophers top runners, Cheever finished 59th at the Griak Invitational, a race she ran while under the weather. Her start at the pre-NCAA meet is currently questionable. âÄúWe have no idea,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúCheeverâÄôs sick; sheâÄôs the only one right now. SheâÄôs just been kind of sick for the last couple of weeks.âÄù Despite the status of Cheever, Wilson is confident the depth of his team âÄî one of the biggest in the Big Ten âÄî will make up for any health issues come Saturday. âÄúWe still have a very strong team and a very deep team, and weâÄôre just going to go in there and do the very best we can,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúWeâÄôre going to go in there and try and get as many points as we can for [an] at-large berth.âÄù