Men have chance to bounce back in Indiana after fourth-place finish at Griak

Mark Remme

The last time the Minnesota men’s cross country team lined up at the starting line, leaves were not so evident on sidewalks and the air was not so crisp.

It was the last weekend of September at the Roy Griak Invitational, a meet where the Gophers placed fourth and watched their national ranking drop six spots.

Now ranked 24th, Minnesota will travel to Terre Haute, Ind., this weekend for a pre-NCAA meet with the nation’s top runners. Start time is 10:40 a.m. Saturday.

The Gophers will meet up with 11 ranked opponents in the meet. Still, coach Steve Plasencia isn’t as much concerned about the teams surrounding his squad.

He said he’s more concerned with closing the gaps in his top five runners, a feature that perhaps cost Minnesota a higher finish at the Griak.

Roughly 42 seconds elapsed between the Gophers’ fourth-place finisher Matt Barratt and fifth-place Ben Kampf, which put Minnesota in a compromising position points-wise.

Plasencia won’t have it any easier this weekend as Barratt will not compete. Plasencia declined to detail the injury but said it was along the lines of upper-leg soreness.

“We’re just working to come together here as we get deeper into the season,” Plasencia said. “I’m not one to draw huge assessments until it’s actually played itself out.”

Women to Indiana, too

Coach Gary Wilson will be back this weekend as his women’s cross country team also heads to Terre Haute for the pre-NCAA meet.

The Gophers will compete at 11:20 a.m. Saturday.

Wilson missed Minnesota-Duluth’s Pine Hills Invitational last week to be at his daughter’s wedding.

The fourth-ranked Gophers head into the meet with their highest ranking in school history, but Wilson is quick to point out the parity of the nation’s top teams.

“There are just no guarantees this year,” he said. “I think you could run the top 15 teams in the country every single weekend and get a different result every weekend. I really believe this.”

His assessment will be put to the test as all but two of the top 10 teams will be at Terre Haute, including No. 1 Stanford.

Wilson said he believes this year’s event will be more beneficial in giving his runners a chance to see the course they will run on if they make the NCAA Championships come November.

Junior Gabriel Anderson, who finished second on the team at the Griak two weeks ago, said this course in particular is good to revisit because of its tricky nature.

“It’s tough to gauge where you need to go,” she said. “This is more flat (than Les Bolstad Golf Course), but you can get lost pretty quickly. It’s important to know what you’re getting into.”

Minnesota’s top runners have yet to compete in a meet they have not won this year. The Gophers have three first-place finishes when its top seven compete.

In order for a trend like that to continue, a little luck might have to be involved this weekend.

“We could easily be ranked sixth or eighth right now and others could be ranked fourth,” Wilson said. “There’s a target on everyone’s back this year.”