Final two spots on traveling team filled after weekend meet

Zach Eisendrath

With the final two spots on the traveling team still up for grabs, some runners on the Minnesota women’s cross country team were more concerned with one another than their opponents at Saturday’s six-kilometer UMD Pine Hills Invitational in Carlton.

Even though they were competing mostly against themselves, the Gophers still managed to cruise to victory in the team event. Minnesota held off the second-place Duluth campus team by a 21-point margin. Minnesota freshman Sally Paulson won the race with a time of 23:00.30.

At the meet’s conclusion, coach Gary Wilson named Paulson and second-place finisher, sophomore Kristin Johansen (23:01.80), the final two members of his top 12 which will compete at the Pre-NCAA Meet in Terre Haute, Ind., next Saturday.

Wilson, who sat out his top 10 runners this weekend to better evaluate the five Minnesota runners with a legitimate chance of claiming the final two positions, said he was impressed with how his runners competed against one another.

“All the kids ran gutty races. You could tell there were spots on the line,” Wilson said. “They were competing against each other. I said, ‘Make sure you’re racing each other, don’t just be running.’ “

Wilson said he took the runners’ entire season of work into consideration before making his decision.

But Johansen made a hard push the last two weekends to claim one of the final roster spots. She placed fourth overall as the Gophers

No. 1 runner at the UW-Eau Claire Invitational last weekend and led for a majority of Saturday’s race.

Johansen said she attributes her recent surge to being more focused than earlier in the season. Johansen was sick earlier in the year, which derailed her a bit. Now healthy, Johansen said she has improved her training regimen.

Johansen, who appeared at the NCAA Pre-Meet last year as well, said she is thrilled to be going back.

“It’s been kind of a long, trying season, and I’ve worked really hard up until this point, so I’m pretty excited,” she said.

At the beginning of the season, Paulson said she didn’t expect to have the opportunity to even challenge for a spot at the Pre-NCAA Meet.

Paulson said she figured it would take her at least until she was an upperclassman to make the squad.

“I had no idea coming in,” she said. “It’s a big team and there are so many really talented, fast girls on this team.”

Paulson said she felt no additional pressure running with so much on the line. She said she just hoped to be in the top 30 runners on the team this season.

But Paulson has quickly surpassed her goal and has run within the top 12 for the majority of the year.

On Saturday, Paulson had a personal best six-kilometer time, surpassing her old record by 49 seconds to secure first place.

Wilson said the toughest part of his decision was denying senior Jena Trask an opportunity to compete at the Pre-NCAA Meet. Trask placed sixth this weekend with a time of 23:39.40.

Trask was on the cusp of making the team last year and fell just short once again this season.

“If you can do it, you always like to take seniors, but the people who are underclass kids are running hard too and should get what they deserve,” Wilson said. “There are no gifts, no matter how much you like a kid.”

For years, Wilson has used the race leading up to the Pre-NCAA Meet as a large factor in determining who to send to the event.

And with so much on the line each year, Wilson has been able to see his runners’ competitive spirit at their finest during the entire evaluation process.

“I just think the whole attitude people go into this meet with has been the same for years,” Wilson said. “People know their spots are on the line, so they go in and mean business. They are still friends, but they go after (one another).”