Duwell, Mead lead runners into Griak Invitational

The women are two-time defending champs at the meet which honors legendary coach Roy Griak.

by Max Sanders

After cruising to wins in the Oz Memorial, the Minnesota menâÄôs and womenâÄôs cross country teams face their first true test of the season Saturday at the 24th annual Griak Invitational. Formerly the Minnesota Invitational, the Griak Invitational took its present name in 1996 as a way of honoring legendary cross country and track and field coach Roy Griak , who now works as an administrative assistant for the menâÄôs cross country team. The Minnesota women look to continue a remarkable two year stretch which includes back-to-back Big Ten Titles as well as back-to-back Griak Invitational titles. For Gophers womenâÄôs head coach Gary Wilson , the effort put forth in training by his upperclassmen is something he thinks will benefit the team come Saturday. âÄúTheyâÄôve got some high goals for themselves, and the thing theyâÄôre doing really well is they are taking care of all the details in our zone of discipline,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúIf you do the day-to-day process, the end result will come, and theyâÄôre doing that. TheyâÄôre a great group.âÄù Leading the team is senior Megan Duwell . Duwell is fresh off of a first place Oz Memorial finish, and was just named Big Ten Co-Cross Country runner of the week. Duwell is the first Minnesota runner since Emily Brown in 2005 to win Big Ten runner of the week, and Wilson knows Duwell is the key to the Gophers success come Saturday. âÄúSheâÄôs going to be able to take a run at the title,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúShe knows this course better than anybody; the expectation really for her is to lead our team to a team victory, thatâÄôs our goal.âÄù On the menâÄôs side, led by juniors Hassan Mead and Ben Blankenship, Minnesota hopes to also continue its recent run of top-5 team finishes. The Gophers finished fourth overall in each of the two previous Griak Invitational meets. Minnesota will benefit this year in not seeing defending individual champion Elkanah Kibet . Kibet won the title last year running for Auburn University, but Auburn will not be participating in this yearâÄôs meet. In terms of individual goals, Gophers menâÄôs head coach Steve Plasencia expects Mead âÄî who finished second overall last year individually âÄî to contend for the title. âÄúI think by and large for Hassan right now, almost any cross country meet he steps into, thereâÄôs an expectation that he has a chance to win it,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúWe think heâÄôs in a good position to run, and weâÄôre just going to have to see.âÄù Plasencia enjoys the opportunity to participate in the nationâÄôs biggest cross country meet, especially since itâÄôs held at nearby Les Bolstad Golf Course . âÄúWe always look forward to the Griak meet,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúIn terms of preparing for it mentally, generally a lot doesnâÄôt have to be said; everybodyâÄôs excited about it.âÄù With the exception of one or two runners who will not race due to nagging minor injuries, Plasencia expects a majority of the team to be ready for SaturdayâÄôs meet. The Griak Invitational features six collegiate races, with races in Divisions I, II and III, as well as four high school races. The MenâÄôs Gold Division One competition begins at 12:10 p.m., and the Jack Johnson WomenâÄôs Gold Division One competition begins at 12:55 p.m.