Mammoth Griak field continues to grow each year

At this year’s Griak there were more than 4,100 competitors.

Minnesota sophomore Cassy Opitz competes Saturday in the 26th Annual Roy Griak Invitational on the St. Paul Campus.

Minnesota sophomore Cassy Opitz competes Saturday in the 26th Annual Roy Griak Invitational on the St. Paul Campus.

Dane Mizutani

Every year, the goal of the Roy Griak Invitational is to provide the competitors with the best cross country experience of their life, according to womenâÄôs head coach Gary Wilson. 

This task, however, gets more difficult each year as the meet continues to grow at a rapid pace.

What started in 1985 as a small tribute meet to running legend Roy Griak has morphed into one of the largest cross country meets in the nation.

At this yearâÄôs Griak there were more than 4,100 competitors from Division I, II and III, as well as a plethora of local high schools.

Still, amid the 370 teams and their tents along the fairways of Les Bolstad Golf Course, there was a sense of organized chaos.

Though Wilson is the meet director and co-founder of the Griak, he said those primarily responsible for the coordination are assistant coach Sarah Hesser and administrative specialist Jo Rider.

Hesser serves as the high school coordinator, and she said she tries to make this the best meet possible for everyone who comes out.

She added that she enjoys the coordination of this meet because it serves as a way to give back.

âÄúItâÄôs a labor of love,âÄù Hesser said. âÄúI absolutely love this race. I ran in the race as a high school kid, so just to watch the high school races and remember back to when I was in high school âÄî how cool this event was âÄî just makes it so fun to help organize.âÄù

Rider has helped organize the Griak since 1998 and said it has changed immensely since then.

âÄúIt has gotten so huge. Back when we first started in âÄô98 we didnâÄôt have [computer] chips and this high-tech stuff. ItâÄôs been a big, big, big change,âÄù Rider said, referring to the computer-assisted tracking of finishers.

âÄúWhen we first started we probably had 50 college and university teams total, and I donâÄôt think high school was involved in the beginning. When the high school meet started we only had one girl and one boy race. Now we have two races for both of them.âÄù

 With about 500 entries more than last yearâÄôs Griak, this growth does not look to be slowing.

âÄúItâÄôs not getting any smaller, thatâÄôs for sure,âÄù Hesser said. âÄúItâÄôs not about the University of Minnesota. ItâÄôs about having a good cross country meet.âÄù

North Carolina State won the menâÄôs meet Saturday. Iowa State captured the title on the womenâÄôs side.