Monday, November 19, 2007

Gopher Men Surprise with 8th Place Finish

The Gopher men surprised the cross country community with an 8th place team finish, scoring 322 points. Minnesota finished just two points ahead of Louisville and nine in front of UTEP.

Junior Chris Rombough led the way, crossing the line 29th overall in 30:25 for the 10-kilometer course. Hassan Mead capped off an outstanding true freshman season with a 43rd-place finish at the National Championships. Forrest Tahdooahnippah was 58th, Justin Grunewald finished 120th and Mike McFarland came in 161st overall to round out the scoring five for Minnesota.

“When we really sat down and started looking at it over the last few days we thought we might be able to do top-10,” said head coach Steve Plasencia. “The guys came through."

“I felt good until about 8k,” said Rombough, “and that’s when I knew I had to start passing guys.” After a 14th-place effort a year ago, Rombough said he knew the race would go out hard, and he was plenty happy to wait for the later stages to make a move. “I wanted to relax until I got to the top of the hill after 6k because that’s where I figured people would start falling off if they went out too fast,” he said.

The Gophers ran conservatively in the early going, and were 19th in the team competition at the 5000-meter mark. Over the first mile the pack stayed intact, and there were no Minnesota singlets to be seen in the front half. “We told them over the first half of the race run with your heads and run with your hearts over the last half of the race,” said Plasencia. According to Plasencia, Rombough passed 12 runners between six and seven kilometers. And he was not the only Gopher moving up. “Most of our guys were picking people off,” said Plasencia. “That was a strategy that worked out pretty well for us today."

In the first half of the race, it was not Mead or Rombough but Tahdooahnippah who lead the way for Minnesota.

“I usually have been the guy that goes out the hardest,” he said. “It was a little easier to move up then I thought it was going to be."

Tahdooahnippah’s experience with Stanford has taught him that anything can happen at the national meet.

“Even when I was a little farther back then I wanted to be with a mile to go I knew if I was able to dig down people would come back still,” he said.

Running in his first national meet as a true freshman, Mead was surprised by how fast the field went out. He said he ran 2:50 for the second kilometer, but “everyone else was going so much faster it seemed like I was in the back."

Mead was hoping to be in the top-50 early and move up over the last few kilometers. However, “it didn’t work out that way.” The depth of the race left Mead out of his comfort zone.

“You got 100 guys ahead of you and their all almost the same speed or better…you can’t wait and expect the last 2k to catch up.” He called his breathing “comfortable” even in the latter stages, but said his “legs just couldn’t get moving” like he wanted.

A slew of Minnesota faithful made the nearly 10-hour trip to Terre Haute, and their presence did not go unnoticed by the team.

“It felt great to have Minnesota across my chest and to have everyone in the crowd wearing Minnesota cheering for me,” said Tahdooahnippah.

No comments: