Men hope to finish in top 10, admit this meet will be finale

Ryan Schuster

Six meets and two-and-a-half months of preparation have passed since the men’s cross country team started its season.
Saturday morning in Champaign, Ill., the Gophers will race in the most important competition of their season — the NCAA District IV Cross Country Championships.
Despite facing numerous obstacles this season, the team has managed to keep focused and improve times.
Almost all of the Gophers runners have suffered from various minor injuries or health problems this season, slowing the team’s progress.
Both Jeremy Polson and Charles McClure came up lame two weeks ago for Minnesota at the Big Ten meet. Polson stumbled to a disappointing 67th-place finish after running with a blister on his right foot. McClure was hobbled after being spiked on his Achilles’ tendon, requiring six stitches.
At the Big Tens, Obleman finished seventh overall in 25 minutes, 13 seconds, good enough to be named to the All-Big Ten first team. Todd Landgraff, Tony Riter, Mike Stoick and McClure rounded out Minnesota’s top five at the conference meet.
Minnesota improved two places from their ninth-place showing last year. This weekend, the setting will be a little different as the team will race a longer distance on a flatter course at Illinois.
Once again the Gophers will have to deal with difficult circumstances. For the first time this season, Minnesota will be running on a 10-kilometer course, two kilometers longer than the standard 8K distance they have ran on all season.
“Some of the older guys who have been through it will be used to it,” Obleman said. “The younger guys haven’t ran that far in a meet before, but they aren’t afraid of it.”
It is the Gophers youth and inexperience as well as reoccurring injuries that have plagued the team this season. Out of Minnesota’s top seven runners, only two are upperclassmen.
“Everybody has gained a whole season of maturity and with the young team we have, that’s good,” coach Steve Plasencia said. “Those big meet jitters are a lot less than they were.”
The Gophers would like to shake off those jitters and finish in the upper fourth of the 40-plus team invitational this weekend.
“I set a goal of a top 10 finish in the districts,” Plasencia said. “If we have a good day we should be able to do that. To be successful we have to have a good performance from all of our top guys instead of just three guys.”
Plasencia said Minnesota will almost certainly be competing in its last meet of the season at the district meet. The Gophers would need to place in the top five as a team Saturday to have a realistic shot of making the national meet. With the season winding down and virtually no pressure on the team, this weekend looks like a fitting way for Minnesota to end their year.
“At this point I think it’s down to the fun time of the season because the hay is in the barn,” Plasencia said.