Mead wins regional, both teams given at-large bids to NCAAs

The Gophers men’s team finished fourth; women finished third.

Senior Hassan Mead approaches the finish line Sept. 24 during the 26th Annual Roy Griak Invitational in Falcon Heights.

Moira DuCharme, Daily File Photo

Senior Hassan Mead approaches the finish line Sept. 24 during the 26th Annual Roy Griak Invitational in Falcon Heights.

Dane Mizutani

It was perhaps more dramatic than the Gophers menâÄôs and womenâÄôs cross country teams wanted it, but both teams are going to the NCAA championships on at-large bids.

The menâÄôs team finished fourth at the NCAA midwest regional on Saturday in DeKalb, Ill., despite a first-place finish by All-American Hassan Mead.

On Wednesday, menâÄôs head coach Steve Plasencia told the Minnesota Daily he thought a third-place finish would almost guarantee his team an at-large bid for the NCAA championships on Nov. 21.

The Gophers were left in a state of limbo Saturday after an overall team score of 129 kept them nine points out of third place.

It was announced Sunday, however, the Gophers were in fact one of the 13 teams that received an at-large bid.

âÄúI think the further we moved away from the actual meet, the more we knew we were in pretty good contention as we saw what was happening in some of the other regional meets,âÄù Plasencia said Sunday. âÄúSome of the work we did early in the season came back and paid off for us.âÄù 

By beating some quality teams earlier in the year, Minnesota received points towards the at-large bid. The team beat enough quality opponents to be considered one of the top-13 non-automatic qualifying teams in the nation. The top-two finishers from each region receive automatic bids.

Mead won Saturday but did not lead until the 8,100-meter split of the 10K race.

Mead drafted behind other runners for a majority of the race, and when he finally made his move, no one could catch him.

 âÄúHe said he felt very easy throughout most of the race and towards the end he decided to press a little bit,âÄù Plasencia said.

âÄúI think he ran a very tactically superior race to what he did at the Big Ten meet. He showed more patience of when he decided to go.âÄù

Erik Truedson did not fare as well as Mead.

Truedson ran with the top group for the beginning of the race but started to fade by the 5,000-meter split.

He finished in 62nd place overall and was the teamâÄôs sixth finisher.

âÄúHe got out a little bit further up than he maybe should have,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúWhen the pace picked up later he was getting passed by people and thatâÄôs never a good thing.

âÄúI think it was a difficult race tactically because it went out so slow that guys that arenâÄôt traditionally out in the front found themselves in the front.âÄù

Pieter Gagnon (15th), Andrew Larsen (22nd), Marcus Paulson (45th) and Steve Sulkin (46th) rounded out the scoring roster for the Gophers.

Women finish third at Midwest Regional

Steph Price and Ashlie Decker paced the Minnesota womenâÄôs cross country team to a third-place finish at the NCAA midwest regional in DeKalb, Ill., on Saturday.

WomenâÄôs head coach Gary Wilson said he would be shocked if his team did not receive an at-large bid following the finish.

On Sunday, to no surprise, the Gophers were announced as one of the 13 at-large selections for the NCAA championships Nov. 21.    

âÄúItâÄôs obviously a thrill to make our seventh straight trip to the national meet,âÄù Wilson said Sunday. âÄúWeâÄôre so proud of these kids because there was every reason for them not to make it âĦ but kids have just stepped in a grown and done a great job.âÄù

Price entered the meet as the defending NCAA midwest regional champion, but was unable to defend her title.

Price was near the top of the pack for a majority of the race, but never sniffed the outright lead and finished sixth overall.

âÄúShe didnâÄôt go with the group she should have gone with,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúI told her to be patient at [4,500 meters] and at that point she kind of let off the gas a little bit and didnâÄôt go with the group and couldnâÄôt get back in a rhythm then.âÄù

Rachel Drake, who was originally left off the scoring roster, stepped in Saturday following Maggie BolligâÄôs illness that kept her out of the regional meet.

Wilson said Bollig was sick with the flu and the team left her in Madison, Wis., with her parents as they made the trip to DeKalb, Ill.

Drake took advantage of her opportunity to run at the regional meet and was the teamâÄôs fifth finisher and 56th overall.

âÄúShe did great,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúShe really pushed through and [passed] Cassy Opitz right at the end.”

Decker (12th), Molly Kayfes (27th), Katie Moraczewski (35th), and Drake (56th) followed Price on the teamâÄôs scoring roster.

âÄúIâÄôm proud as heck of these guys,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúThey could have folded the tents many times this year and they havenâÄôt. I told them, âÄòIâÄôve never been more proud of a team than I am for this group.âÄôâÄù