U women’s CC 5th at Big Tens

by Ryan Schuster

An excerpt from this year’s Wisconsin women’s cross country media guide claims that one of the team’s strengths will be that no one runner stands out from the pack.
At the women’s Big Ten Cross Country Championships on Saturday in Bloomington, Ind., the Badgers parity of talented runners helped them win their second straight Big Ten title.
Penn State took second, Michigan was third and Michigan State placed fourth. Minnesota ended up in fifth place even though Wisconsin’s team score over the weekend was nearly five times more than the Gophers’ tally.
A year after losing NCAA champion Kathy Butler, the Badgers placed seven runners in the top 11 spots. All 11 finished ahead of Minnesota’s top placer.
Gopher junior Kari Thompson took first for a Minnesota team that has been decimated by injuries and sickness this season, with a 14th-place showing in 18 minutes, 29 seconds on the 5-kilometer course. Her top finish on the team marks the first time this season she has been the Gophers’ number one runner.
Freshman Minna Haronoja came in ten seconds behind Thompson in 21st place. It was the fourth time in six attempts that she has taken second on the team.
Anna Gullingsrud, the Big Ten women’s cross country athlete of the month for September, slipped to 28th overall and third on the team with a time of 18:53. She took third on the team, which is the first time this season that she hasn’t been the first Gopher across the line.
The sophomore competed with a bronchial infection that hampered her breathing during the race. She neglected to seek medical attention last week, running on through the pain in silence without notifying her coach or fellow athletes.
“Anna just didn’t take care of her health,” Gophers women’s cross country coach Gary Wilson said. “If she’s going to be an elite runner, then she has to have elite preparation. You can’t leave things to chance.”
Minnesota junior Andrea Lentz and sophomore Amy Hoel rounded out the team’s top five placers at the meet by finishing in 35th and 41st places respectively. Bridget Neutgens, Janet Howe, Karen Kleindl and Keri Zweig ran to 48th, 52nd, 54th and 79th place finishes.
Excluding Minnesota’s times at the Iowa State Invitational on Oct. 19, the Big Ten’s difficult course forced the worst times of the season for six of the team’s nine runners.
When asked if the team was happy with their performance, Thompson responded bluntly. “No,” she said. “Not at all. We were really disappointed. We would have been third or fourth if everyone ran their best. We’re not able to all run at 100 percent at the same time.”
Despite studying film of the 1987 Big Tens, which were held on the same hilly Indiana field, the Gophers were unable to live up to their capabilities.
The youthful Gophers lived up to their fifth seed in the race by finishing in the middle of the 10-team competition. Northwestern did not compete.
Minnesota’s top five runners on Saturday will all return for next season. If the Gophers can stay healthy, they could improve on their two consecutive fifth-place finishes in the conference.