Gophers hitting stride midseason

Matt Greenstein

The Gophers are in the thick of their season and starting to hit their stride.

Last week, the men’s cross country team cracked the top 30 of the national coaches poll for the first time this season, coming in at No. 27.

The ranking comes after a third-place finish at their most recent meet, the Roy Griak Invitational.

Heading into the Wisconsin adidas Invitational on Friday, the Gophers are looking to build off their recent successes.

Senior Blayne Dulian said depth has been important to get to this point in the season.

“We found some leaders on the cross country course. … Aaron [Bartnik] has really stepped up this year, and I think that motivates the other guys on the team,” Dulian said.

Dulian, who finished seventh among his teammates at the Roy Griak Invitational, said he’s motivated to place higher on a deep team.

But the Gophers’ success is due to more than just depth and desire.

“They came in healthy. They haven’t had a ton of downtime due to injuries,” head coach Steve Plasencia said.

Plasencia and Dulian both said there will be a high level of competition at their upcoming meet.

“The invitational is a bloodbath. … It’s probably half the field at the national meet or more,” Plasencia said. “We have to be ready for very, very difficult competition.”

Dulian said the high level of competition at the meet could make the Gophers better in the end.

“There’s obviously going to be some good competition there, which is good for us … that helps us down the road. Not making it something bigger than it is is important,” he said.

While the Gophers’ top runners will compete at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational this weekend, a group will go to Ettrick, Wis., for the Jim Drews Invitational.

The women’s team will also split, with some heading to Madison, Wis., for the Wisconsin adidas Invitational and others going to Ettrick, Wis., for the Tori Neubauer
Invitational.

The women finished seventh at the Roy Griak Invitational, and head coach Sarah Hopkins said the team could have placed higher.

“There’s enough people that knew that maybe [it] could’ve gone a little bit better for us,” Hopkins said.

But after that meet, Minnesota’s top group took first at the South Dakota State Classic.

With its recent successes, the women’s team is continuing to prepare and train hard for the upcoming meets.

“I think our team is very capable of being in the top three at [the Big Ten meet],” redshirt junior captain Kaila Urick said. “I think our team is very capable of making it to nationals.”