Men’s cross country hopes maturity leads to consistency

by Adam Fink

At the first practice on Aug. 22, Minnesota men’s cross country coach Steve Plasencia noticed a sense of urgency on the team’s part.

After advancing to the NCAA Championships last season, the Gophers finished in 25th place — six spots from last.

“They did their homework this summer,” last year’s Midwest Region Coach of the Year said. “They sense an opportunity for us and they worked really hard over the summer.”

The motivation for this year’s men’s cross country team won’t just come from coaches, peers and parents — but from last season’s successes and failures.

There are enough of both to go around as the team prepares for its Sept. 14 opener at Brigham Young University.

The Gophers didn’t live up to their early hype last year, finishing 17th out of 36 teams at the Roy Griak Invitational and 14th out of 35 teams at the Pre-NCAA meet.

After a seventh place finish at the Big Ten meet, it looked like the team with only one senior wasn’t going to validate its preseason No. 1 Midwest Regional ranking.

As fall turned into winter, the Gopher runners got hot and won the Midwest Regional in November. It earned Minnesota its fifth straight appearance in the NCAA Championships, one of only nine schools to do so.

“They showed what they were capable of,” Plasencia said. “A year’s maturity will help us bounce back from a rough week and not let us get too high after a good performance.”

Those ups and downs have this year’s squad focused on consistency and improvement. The 12-man line-up for the opening meet will be determined later this week.

However, all 12 runners who competed for Minnesota last season will return. Senior Will McComb, Toby Henkels and Andrew Carlson finished strong last season and are expected to lead the team.

While Plasencia hasn’t set any expectations, he knows the leadership, experience and ability is in place.

“We have the potential to fare better than last year,” the sixth-year coach said. “We have a tough schedule, but the opportunity is there. It’s up to them now.”

Scrimmage with St. Thomas

The Gophers scrimmaged with St. Thomas on Saturday at the College of St. Catherine’s. Although the time trials were not scored, Plasencia left satisfied with his team’s effort.

“I told the guys to go out there and run as a team,” Plasencia said. “They did that and it benefited both teams.”

Schmidt likely redshirted

Freshman Tom Schmidt, last year’s Class AA Minnesota state cross country champion, will likely redshirt this season.

The native of Faribault is one of three incoming runners to this year’s team.