Although a rival coach at today’s NCAA media conference indirectly suggested trophy potential for the #6-ranked University of Minnesota’s women’s cross country team at today’s Division I Cross Country Championships, Gopher coach Gary Wilson wasn’t buying it.
Told of Florida State coach Karen Harvey’s notion that six teams are fighting for four NCAA trophies today in Terre Haute, Indiana, Wilson preferred to laugh off the idea. He ticked off the teams he sees as stronger than his Golden Gophers: prohibitive favorites Washington, Harvey’s #2 Seminoles, #3 Oregon, and #5 West Virginia, #9 Texas Tech with two-time individual champ Sally Kipyego.
He didn’t mention #5 Princeton, but Wilson probably meant to.
“Who did she say the six were,” Wilson wondered?
Although Wilson’s Gophers were ranked as high as #4 earlier this season, the 24th-year Minnesota coach named bettering his program’s best-ever NCAA finish – the 9th place the 2005 team earned – as the proper goal for this year’s squad.
The Gophers are making their fourth consecutive NCAA appearance and their 12th total. They enter the meet, for the second year in a row, as the Big Ten and Midwest Region champions.
Wilson said the key to success, by whatever definition, would be strong running by his top two runners – junior Megan Duwell and senior Gabriele Anderson – and tightly packed running by his #3 - #7 runners.
“The run well as a group when they run together,” Wilson said of juniors Amy Laskowske, Mallory Van Ness, junior Heather Dorniden, and Jamie Cheever, and graduate student Felicitas Mensing.
The Gophers intend to run the same seven runners on Monday as they did at the NCAA Midwest Regional meet last weekend.
More Nationals Magic? … Last year, the Gopher men placed a surprise 8th at the NCAA Championships, powered by all-Americans Hassan Mead and Chris Rombough.
Today, they’ll be looking for a repeat of that nationals magic.
The team’s stars return – Rombough could become Minnesota’s first-ever three-time all-American, Mead, the Big Ten and Midwest Region champ, could race himself into the NCAA elite – and the #12 Gophers, who have improved meet-to-meet throughout the season, seem poised for a strong run.
Gopher men’s coach Steve Plasencia said Sunday his team is healthy. He plans to run the same seven runners today that competed at the NCAA Midwest Regional where the team finished an automatic qualifying 2nd: sophomore Mead, senior Rombough, sophomore Ben Blankenship, junior Matt Barrett, sophomore Mike Torchia, sophomore Mike McFarland, and senior Ben Puhl.
The Minnesota men will make its 20th appearance in the NCAA Cross Country Championships today. The Gophers have competed in 11 of the last 12 Championships, missing out only in 2006 when they stumbled at the Midwest Region meet they hosted.
The best NCAA finish for the Gophers was a fourth-place performance in 1968.
Heath Brothers Power #3 Stanford ... Winona High School graduates Garrett and Elliott Heath have been important contributors in #3-ranked Stanford's season so far. The Cardinal won their division of the Pre-National meet here in October and were runner-up -- behind #1 Oregon -- at the Pac Ten and West Regional meets.
Other Minnesota natives expected to compete at NCAAs include Detroit Lakes alum Hanna Grinaker of Wisconsin, Mankato Loyola grad Sarah Price of Michigan State, Prior Lake alum Megan Brandeland of #3-ranked Princeton, and Eden Prairie alum Ryan Little of #2 Oklahoma State.
Minnesota Weather in Indiana … Nationals morning has dawned breezy, rainy, and cool. The forecast predicts rain and show showers, 10-15 mile per hour winds, and temperatures in the low 40s will greet the Gopher men and women and the rest of the NCAA field later today. The course was dry and in great condition yesterday, but has endured precipitation that began here last night around midnight.
NCAAs on TV and the Web … The NCAA Championship will be broadcast live on CBS College Sports Network and streamed online HERE. Coverage will begin at 11:00 a.m. CST.