A lot of runners requires a lot of captains

When questioned about the number of competitors for the Minnesota womenâÄôs cross country team âÄî one of the largest teams in the nation with 50 athletes âÄî coach Gary Wilson jokingly takes the blame. âÄúThe reason we do it is because IâÄôm just not that bright. Because I canâÄôt figure out whoâÄôs going to be good six months from now or in a year,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúIf I could do that, maybe weâÄôd only have seven people who would run.âÄù âÄúWeâÄôve always had a big team relative to everyone else in the country. IâÄôve always believed that youâÄôre going to find people in those back grooves [of recruiting]. There are some freshmen [here] that are going to be really good in another year, but if you donâÄôt give those kids a chance then youâÄôre kind of shooting yourself in the foot.âÄù With so many runners to watch over, Wilson said sometimes the majority of the responsibilities of a Big Ten competitor fall directly on the athlete. âÄúThey know the rules of the game; they know whatâÄôs got to happen. They cannot bring drama to the table,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúTheyâÄôve got to be somewhat self-sufficient. WeâÄôve got three coaches to take care of them, but they also know theyâÄôve got to come 50 percent of the way and theyâÄôve done a great job of that.âÄù To supplement the leadership role, Wilson has seven captains who help to keep everyone going in the right direction âÄî a fairly easy task according to of the teamâÄôs captains. âÄúWeâÄôre actually fortunate because we have a great group of girls, from the freshmen to the seniors. Everyone is really manageable and has a great attitude,âÄù junior Megan Duwell said. âÄúOur captains all work together and weâÄôre close, so weâÄôve got a good situation for ourselves.âÄù But being a leader isnâÄôt just reserved for the captains, according to junior Elizabeth Yetzer. âÄúThere are seven captains and within the team there are just a lot of natural leaders,âÄù Yetzer said. âÄúHaving such a big team forces everyone to hold each other together on a small scale so that on a larger scale, everyone is united.âÄù Obviously the Gophers have stayed on track in terms of athletics in recent years âÄî with the 2007 Big Ten championship and appearances in the last three NCAA championships. And the Gophers only lost All-Big Ten senior Ladia Albertson-Junkans from last yearâÄôs team that finished 12th at the NCAA Championships while it will return 10 athletes with NCAA championships experience âÄî an impressive figure considering only seven athletes are allowed to compete for each team at the season finale each year. Unlike most sports where the object is to focus on the next game and not look too far down the schedule, Yetzer said the cross country team is all about peaking at the right time. âÄúWeâÄôre trying to have more of a long term vision, more towards Big Tens and nationals. Last year we peaked a little bit early,âÄù Yetzer said. Duwell, who took the medalist honors last weekend at MinnesotaâÄôs intrasquad meet, said this yearâÄôs team has no boundaries and may be able to push for cracking the top eight at nationals and giving the program the best finish in school history. âÄúThe sky is the limit. We have the experience from last year and all the returners âĦ if we keep working hard, we can do extremely well at nationals.âÄù