Vasiljeva’s career ends on sour note, Pre-NCAAs await

After missing all last year with a hamstring injury, Darja Vasiljeva will not continue.

David McCoy

On Saturday, Minnesota’s women’s cross country team will face its toughest challenge to date when it competes at the Pre-NCAA meet in Terre Haute, Ind.

But the biggest news is not about the race.

Captain Darja Vasiljeva, whom the Gophers were expecting to recover from the hamstring injury that kept her sidelined last season, is officially done for the year. Because it’s her final year of eligibility, it doubles as the end of her collegiate career.

In an announcement made Wednesday, coach Gary Wilson said the stresses placed on her injury and the challenges of running on uneven footing have become too much for Vasiljeva to bear.

“It’s really been wreaking havoc with her hamstring,” Wilson said. “We’re not going to put a kid at risk.”

Vasiljeva was Minnesota’s top runner in every one of its races in 2002, and although the team will undoubtedly feel the loss. Wilson said he’s been impressed with the way the Gophers have held up.

“A lesser group of kids would have folded the tents,” Wilson said. “They’re doing everything they can.”

Wilson said sophomore Emily Brown, who has been fighting to come back from a foot injury all season, might also miss the race.

But the rest of the Gophers can’t afford to dwell on the plight of their teammates when they line up against some of the nation’s best teams this weekend, something Wilson said he has not failed to realize.

“Last I checked, there are no ‘sisters of the poor’ running,” Wilson said. “So a top-15 finish out of 36 would be a great performance.”

With the Gophers not likely to earn an outright berth into the NCAA Championships, this weekend’s race could be crucial for Minnesota’s late-season aspirations.

If they place well, the Gophers can earn points toward an at-large berth.

The 72 teams competing will be divided into two equally weighted races. Minnesota will have seven runners in one race and five in the other.

Walk-on freshman Gabriele Anderson, who made the top 12 after her first collegiate victory last weekend, will replace Vasiljeva.

“Not a lot of people get an opportunity to travel with a Division I team in their freshman year,” Anderson said. “So I’m really excited.”

Even though the Gophers said they will miss Vasiljeva, they are refusing to let it get them down.

“It’s a huge blow,” junior Carly Emil said. “But I think we’ll be able to make it up.”

Men opt for a “tune up”

Instead of heading to Terre Haute along with the women’s team, Minnesota’s men’s cross country coach Steve Plasencia has decided to take his team to the Jim Drews Invitational held Saturday at Wisconsin-Lacrosse.

“We’ve gone through a pretty hard training block since the Griak,” Plasencia said. “This allows the guys to be a little tired.”

Captain Andrew Carlson said he might miss the race because of a lingering sickness.