Top recruits pacing CC’s expectations

Brian Stensaas

The Minnesota women’s cross country team may have lost its two biggest guns from last season, but plenty of bullets remain in the chamber to provide a valiant shot at repeating success.

The 18th-ranked Gophers have advanced to the NCAA championships in each of the past four seasons. Last year, the squad unexpectedly won the Roy Griak Invitational. And despite losing the consistency of co-captains Elaine Eggleston and Corinne Nimtz to graduation, coach Gary Wilson remains confident Minnesota can retain its glory.

“I think we’re going to surprise some people this season,” Wilson said. “We lost a couple of top runners but we’ve still got six of our 10 kids back, and these newer kids are tremendous.”

While a return to the NCAA meet is important, and repeating the Griak would be an added bonus, tops on this year’s list is filling the void left by Eggleston and Nimtz.

The Gophers have a strong core of returning runners, led by sophomore Darja Vasiljeva. The 2000 Big Ten freshman of the year – first in Minnesota history – finished as one of the top-two Minnesota runners in four of six meets last season. Vasiljeva, who was also named second-team All-Big Ten, started this season with a win at the annual intrasquad meet.

Wilson knew he would need an able recruiting class entering this season in order to begin the building of a solid foundation. Enter the likes of freshmen Lisa Dyer, Paula Hoffert and Deborah Arneson, a transfer runner from Belmount College.

Wilson was hoping for an immediate impact and got it when Dyer finished second at the intrasquad meet.

“We knew we had to have a good recruiting year,” Wilson said. “I think this is one of the best distance recruiting classes we’ve ever had. We’ve got great depth and we really have a chance to be something special.”

The first bridge to cross this season will be repeating as champions at the Griak. The meet – run at the Les Bolstad University golf course – traditionally has a strong field of teams and is no Sunday stroll through the golf course. Repeating will be difficult but not impossible.

“It’s unfair when you had a veteran team like last year to lay those expectations on a young team,” Wilson said. “I think they will still be finding their way when the Griak comes up. But who knows? We didn’t expect to win it last year.”

For better or for worse, one thing the Gophers are banking on is yet another top-three placing in the Big Ten. Minnesota has finished in the show position at the conference meet in each of the past four seasons. Wilson said while 2000 champion Wisconsin will again be tough, he’s ready to see his squad move up.

“Four years at third, that’s enough,” Wilson said. “We’re going to try and go up the ladder one notch. Maybe two.”

 

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