Friday, October 31, 2008

Short-Cut: Results' Links for November 1-2

There's lots -- LOTS! -- of important action taking place this weekend ... and DtB's the place to stay on top of things.

Along with the results links below, we also plan to post exclusive MSHSL State Meet photos by Saturday evening as well as audio interviews with athletes and coaches from the MIAC Championships.

On Sunday morning, we'll be keeping an eye on the Big Ten Championships and the ING New York City Marathon.

We hope you'll join us ...

Saturday Results' Links:
MSHSL State Meet: Results
Class A Girls: Linda Keller defends, #1 Adrian wins 4th straight.
Class A Boys: Moses Heppner wins, #1 Blake edges Perham.

Class AA Girls: Cassie Opitz wins, leads #1 Eden Prairie to title.
Class AA Boys: Lukas Gemar wins, #1 Wayzata romps to victory.

MIAC Championships: Results
Women: Marie Borner repeats, St. Thomas tops Bethel by 2 points, Carleton by 5.
Men: Duboul Ruon wins, leads St. Olaf to team title over Hamline. St. Thomas.

UMAC Championships: Results
Women: Katelyn Meger, St. Scholastica win.
Men: Nathan Loersch and Martin Luther College win.

Sunday Results' Links:
Big Ten Championships: Results
ING New York City Marathon: Results

Notice to DtB Readers ... Due to circumstances beyond our control -- namely severed power and internet lines near our home -- our coverage this weekend will be reduced from what we originally intended.

We still plan to post photos and audio from the State Meet and MIAC Championships -- and resume our normal coverage -- as soon as possible. We regret the problems and appreciate your patience.

MIAC Championships: A Tommie Sweep?

The University of St. Thomas has a storied cross country tradition at the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championships. Both the men's and women's teams have won more MIAC titles than any other school.

The Tommie men have won 23 titles; the Tommie women 14.

Surprisingly, however, St. Thomas hasn't swept men's and women's team titles at the MIAC Championships since 1992. At tomorrow's meet at Como Golf Course in St. Paul, the MIAC's winningest teams could again drive home with both team titles.

The Tommie men enter the meet as the #1-ranked team in NCAA Division III's Central Region. The two-time defending MIAC champion Tommie women, who have swapped the MIAC's top regional ranking with Carleton throughout the season, enter the meet ranked just a slot below the Knights.

If the Tommie men win on Saturday, they'll likely have won a close victory over a number of evenly matched MIAC schols. St. Olaf, ranked #2 in the Central, #5 St. John's, the two-time defending champs, #6 Hamline, and #8 Bethel all have desgins on the team title.

If the Tommie women win, they'll likely need to prevail in yet another MIAC Championship tangle between themselves and Carleton -- the two programs that have won the last four MIAC crowns.

Meet to be Web-Cast ... St. Thomas, the host of the meet, plans to produce a live audio webcast of meet, starting at approximately 1:45 p.m. Besides audio, live highlights and results will be posted as they become available. Find the web-cast HERE on the Minnesota Sports Broadcast Network.

Thornton to be Honored ... Former St. Olaf Men's Track & Field and Cross Country Coach Bill Thornton will be awarded the 2008 MIAC Distinguished Service Award at the meet.

The Distinguished Service Award is presented to an individual who has made a significant contribution to their institution and to the conference. The award is the highest honor bestowed upon an individual from the MIAC.

Thornton, who retired from his positions last spring, had been at St. Olaf for three and a half decades, coaching track and field for the entirety and cross country from 1970 through 1984 and 1997 to 2007. During his tenure, Thornton coached over 100 Midwest Conference and MIAC Champions, 30 All-Americans, and five national champions.

Challenges Await Gopher Teams at Big 10s

Stiff challenges await the strong Gopher teams competing at the Big Ten Cross Country Championships in Ann Arbor, Michigan on Sunday.

The defending champion Golden Gopher women face a field full of challengers to their Big Ten supremacy. Minnesota is the top-ranked Big Ten team nationally, at #7, but hosts Michigan, Michigan State, and Illinois are breathing down their necks at #8, #9, and #10, respectively.

The Gopher women have faced only Michigan State of that group, tipping them by 17 points at the Pre-NCAA meet two weeks ago. Other ranked teams on the starting line include #16 Wisconsin, #19 Penn State, and #21 Iowa.

The Gophers will line up the following squad on Sunday:

Gabriele Anderson (Sr., Perham, Minn./Perham) Big Ten's 2006 - 27th, 21:55 Big Ten's 2007 - 14th, 20:32.60

Jamie Cheever (Jr., Minneapolis, Minn./Southwest) 2006 - 24th, 21:41 2007 - 16th, 20:37.32

Heather Dorniden (Jr., Inver Grove Heights, Minn./Rosemount) 2006 - 34th, 22:08 2007 - 19th, 20:42.55

Megan Duwell (Jr., West Bend, Wis./West Bend West) 2006 - 53rd, 22:49 2007 - 30th, 21:00.58

Amy Laskowske (Jr., Palatine, Ill./Palatine) 2006 - 33rd, 22:04

Felicitas Mensing (Neuhausen, Germany/Kepler Gym./Coastal Carolina)

Nikki Swenson (So., Dawson, Minn./Dawson-Boyd) 2007 - 44th, 21:28.91

Mallory Van Ness (Jr., Shoreview, Minn./Mounds View/Missouri) 2007 - 27th, 20:57.85

Elizabeth Yetzer (Jr., Lakeville, Minn./Lakeville North) 2006 - 28th, 21:56 2007 - 15th, 20:36.14

For more information and statistics about the Gophers at conference, click HERE.

The Gopher Men ... Chris Rombough and Hassan Mead provide a unique - and literal -- one-two punch for the Gophers.

Rombough was the 2006 Big Ten Individual champ as a sophomore and last year, as a true freshman, Mead was the conference runner up. If Minnesota is to match last year's runner-up team finish or somehow snap Wisconsin's 10-year grip on the Big Ten trophy, it will start with Rombough and Mead.

The Gophers enter the meet as the Big Ten's fourth highest ranked team nationally. Wisconsin leads the conference at #6, host Michigan is #9, Indiana ranks #19, the Gophers are #20.

Minnesota will race with the following on Sunday:

Matt Barrett (Jr., Monroe, Wis./Monroe) 2007 - Big Ten's 2007 45th, 25:03.90

Ben Blankenship (So., Stillwater, Minn./Stillwater/Mississippi State)

Ben Kampf (Jr., Farmington, Minn./Farmington) 2006 - 43rd, 25:41 2007 - 38th, 24:56.86

Mike McFarland (So., Hartland, Wis./Arrowhead) 2007 - 33rd, 24:48.40

Hassan Mead (So., Minneapolis, Minn./Minneapolis South) 2007 - 2nd, 23:47.70

Sean Olson (R-Fr., Menomonie, Wis./Menomonie)

Ben Puhl (Sr., Rochester, Minn./Century) 2005 - 53rd, 26:02.58 2006 - 26th, 25:18 2007 - 32nd, 24:45.44

Chris Rombough (Sr., Fremont, Wis./New London) 2005 - 18th, 25:01.58 2006 - 1st, 24:05 2007 - 4th, 23:54.48

Mike Torchia (So., Rochester, Minn./Lourdes) 2006 - Did not finish

Find the full Gopher men's Big Ten media release HERE.

Watch the Meet ... The Big Ten Championships will be delayed-broadcast on the Big Ten Network. The men's race will air on the Big Ten Tonight Show on Sunday at 9:00 p.m. CST. The women's meet airs on Monday’s Big Ten Women’s Show at 6:30 p.m. CST.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

On the Road: Lundstrom on State Qualifying

In his column this month, Chris Lundstrom, who refers to himself as "old school" on the matter, weighs in on the debate over State Meet qualifying.

Section 6AA Blues

As a current high school coach (St. Paul Como Park) and former runner (Northfield) in the Minnesota State High School League system, I'm interested in the discussion and controversy revolving around the process of state meet qualification.

To review…the #3 ranked Edina boys team did not make it to the State Meet this year, as they happened to be in the same section (6AA) as the #1 and #2 teams, Wayzata and Eden Prairie. This unfortunate occurrence brought some new fire to the idea of changing the process of state qualification.

First off, I give Coach Jamie Kirkpatrick a huge amount of credit for both building the Edina program over the years and also for the temperate, well-thought-out comments published on this site. Few coaches I know (myself included!) would remain so philosophical in what is obviously a frustrating situation. Jamie nailed it on the head when he said it’s a blessing and a curse. Kids, and athletes in general, rise to the level of their competition.

Section 6AA was clearly the toughest section in the state this year on the boys’ side. I don’t know anyone who would argue that. Many 6AA coaches, parents and athletes believe that they are always the toughest section. In looking over the last fifteen years of results, I think that is arguable. The reality is that competitive level varies from year to year in each section. Some sections tend to be stronger than others, but none hold a monopoly on state meet success.

Looking back through the top boys teams in the state over the last ten to fifteen years, you see Willmar (2AA) , Marshall (2AA), Hopkins (6AA), Stillwater (4AA), Wayzata (6AA) and a few other teams popping up again and again. These teams – and others – have all had periods of being consistently at or near the top. You can look through girls AA results or Class A results and pull out the top teams from those divisions as well. You can look deeper into the past and see some real dynasties – Minneapolis South and Minneapolis Southwest, for example.

Ultimately, the only consistent trend is that teams rise and fall. They dominate for a time, and then are replaced by others at the top. What makes them great, and what makes them fade? Passionate and high quality coaching, beneficial trends in demographics, the inspiration of a small group of exceptional athletes – it’s probably a unique set of circumstances in each instance.

So while I can certainly see how it would seem like being a boy’s team in section 6AA appears to be an impossible obstacle to overcome, I think history teaches us that that is simply untrue.

That said, it undeniably stinks to be ranked #3 and not toe the line at state. So it is certainly worth taking a look at the options ...

The Pluses and Minuses of an At-Large System

In his interview, Jamie Kirkpatrick touched on the fact that MSHSL simply will not approve any type of at-large system for entry into the state meet. Cross country is considered a team sport, and entry into the state tournament must determined by head-to-head competition for all sports under the umbrella of the MSHSL.

Setting aside the snowball’s chance odds of ever getting an at-large system for team qualification approved, I’d nonetheless like to take a look at the benefits and the drawbacks to such a system.

The proposal that DtB's Charlie Mahler put forward last year on this site involved adjusting bids per section based on the prior year’s results at the state meet. Section champions would qualify automatically, and the next eight slots would be allotted to sections based on previous state meet results. This system would be similar to the NCAA.

This proposal ignores one key thing: the MSHSL practice of doing sectional realignments every two years. Every other year, teams change sections. Under this system, half of the time state meet slots would be awarded to teams who may not have even been in the section the previous year. While some schools have been in the same section for as long anyone can remember, others – Como Park, for example – are accustomed to switching sections.

It might seem unfair to kids to have their chances of going to state determined by the section they happen to be in. I can guarantee that it would seem much more unfair to have their opportunity for qualification determined by how a bunch of kids (many of whom have since graduated) from another team (which may or may not still be in your section) ran on one day almost a year ago. Most people will take head-to-head competition over that any day.

Another idea I have heard thrown around is having coaches bid-in a certain number of teams after sections, based on results throughout the season. Another idea is utilizing results from early in the season to determine those at-large bids. For example, you could take the four teams who beat the most state qualifying teams but did not qualify out of their section.

Under either of those systems, Edina would certainly have gotten into the state meet this year. However, these ideas have drawbacks as well. Getting to the state meet could become political if coaches vote. Basing state entries on results from earlier in the season puts undue pressure on coaches and athletes to race fast early in the season, when the focus should be on training. The state meet could become secondary to the race to gain entry into the state meet; performances at the end of the season, and the long-term development of athletes, could be compromised.

Plus, I think it’s important to step back and look at the point of the whole thing. On the one hand, part of the state meet is about having the best teams and the best runners at the line at the same time. But that is not the only – or even the primary – purpose of the meet. If it was, there would never be a two-class system. We would get to see the best of the best, and forget about handicapping based on enrollment or any other factors.

So what else is the state meet about? I believe it is about giving athletes something to strive for, something to push them to elevate themselves to a higher level than they would otherwise have achieved. As evidenced by Jamie Kirkpatrick’s comments, that can occur whether the team makes it to state or not. I think that it is about providing exceptional teams and individuals a fair and clear opportunity for qualifying. Under that criteria, I believe that Edina had a fair shake this year. They knew all year the teams they would face and have to beat in order to go to state.

Northfield High School, Circa the Early 1990’s

As a one-time member of a 3rd place sectional team back in my days at Northfield High School, I can certainly understand the disappointment of this year’s Edina boys. My senior year, we failed to qualify for state despite placing 5th in state the previous year and returning most of our top runners. Unlike the Edina boys of this year, we were extremely close to qualifying – a few points from 2nd and a couple more points from 1st in the sectional meet – this despite taking the first two spots individually. It was hard, especially after the magic of the previous season.

My junior year, we had a pretty strong top three entering the season, but our team had never made it to state before. We needed something special to happen for us to get there, and it did.

Our fourth and fifth runners – who only emerged later in the season – were seniors who were out for the team for the first time. We pushed each other hard as a group, each runner just a step behind the others, always there to challenge and motivate the next guy on the team.

We ran out of our heads at the section meet – 15:33, 15:44, 16:05, and a couple 16:40 somethings – for a team time under 81 minutes. By the way, that’s faster than any boys teams including national powerhouse Wayzata ran at their section meet this year. Then it was on to state and a fifth place finish for the first ever Northfield boys cross country team to make it there. We didn’t run as well, but we were pleased nonetheless.

What Makes 6AA Great?

Let’s be real. Many of the schools in 6AA are situated in a geographical area encompassing a corridor of wealth that runs through the western suburbs. I’m going to go out on a limb and posit that they have some very real advantages over an average school in Minnesota: resources, parental and community involvement, extensive and well-funded youth sports programs, and high enrollment which allows for sheer numbers unimaginable at other schools.

Add to that the socio-economic reality that most of these kids aren’t working to help support the family, and I doubt that many are required to be home to prepare dinner for their family and care for their younger siblings before they even think about doing their homework.

Lack of other commitments is a luxury, and it creates a situation where the athletes are able to focus on their own development. They can train year-round, and they often begin to do so in their early teens. By the time they are seniors, they have logged thousands and thousands of miles. Those miles are the currency of cross country performance; they are cashed in every fall for fast times.

Lessons on the Course

As a coach at a smaller AA school in a lower socio-economic area, in a school district that doesn’t even have junior high cross country, I may at times envy the position of my suburban neighbors. However, I’m not about to quit trying, and I’m not about to cede the meet before the season even begins. I have coached state qualifiers in cross country, Nordic skiing, and track at Como Park – even a state champion in track. No, we haven’t come anywhere close to a team qualifier, but I see that as just a few more steps away. White Bear Lake, Roseville, and Stillwater probably aren't going to get any worse. We're going to have to get a lot better.

Yes, the advantages of the suburban behemoths are very real, but I question the notion that there is an unshakable order in any section or in the state. The beauty of cross country is in the accessibility of the sport. Look at the history of state meet finishes, and you will see excellence from every corner of the state.

A little trivia – if you add team place from the 2006 and 2007 state meet for boys AA, which teams would have the lowest scores?

Rosemount (3AA), 4
Brainerd (8AA), 7
Willmar (2AA), 7
Eden Prairie (6AA), 11

Rosemount and Brainerd did not qualify this year. Ultimately, it takes a little bit of luck and a little bit of magic. It’s about putting it all on the line, and staring up through the haze at the end of the race to see what the clock says, and what the scores add up to. The clock treats us all the same, and the places are set in stone when the race finishes. That is the beauty of the sport.

Goucher in the News Ahead of NYC Debut

Kara Goucher is the fascination these days for the broadcasters and scribes covering this Sunday's ING New York City Marathon. The Duluth native was front and center at a media conference yesterday morning and a media conference call yesterday afternoon.

Goucher, a medalist at 10,000 meters at the IAAF World Track Track and Field Championships in 2007 and an Olympian at 5000 and 10,000 meters last summer, will make her marathon debut in the Big Apple.

Here's a collection of the some of the stories written from those appearances and other recent interviews ...

ESPN picked up this AP story about Goucher's ties to NYC

The Daily News also writes about Goucher's father's NYC death

Newsday writes about NYC champ Salazar and Goucher

Goucher tells the IAAF "I believe I'm ready"

The Duluth News-Tribune has some great Salazar quotes about Goucher

Also competing in New York are Team USA Minnesota athletes Katie McGregor and Jason Lehmkuhle.

One the Web ... Fans can watch the ING New York City Marathon via streaming web video HERE. Coverage begins at 8:00 a.m. CST on Sunday.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Gophers Feature Ben Blankenship

Ben Blankenship, the two-time MSHSL Class AA State champion at 1600 meters who transfered to the University of Minnesota this fall, is the subject of a feature story by Gopher Athletic Communications Student Assistant Laura Wallenta.

The piece, HERE, talks about Blankenship's original decision to attend Mississippi State as well as his return to his home state to compete for the Gophers. Blankenship (pictured) was the Gophers 5th-man at Pre-Nationals recently.

The Gopher men and women will compete at the Big Ten Championships in Ann Arbor, Michigan this weekend.

Photo courtesy of the U of M.

Analyzing Our Opinions: State & the DtB Plans

We at Down the Backstretch have been eager to offer our opinion on how MSHSL State Meet qualifying could be improved. We see inherent unfairness in the current two-teams-from-each-section qualifying system. Last year, we offered a plan to reward sections that performed better at the previous year’s State Meet that we thought would improve the quality and fairness of selection to the meet.

Now that the 2008 State Meet field is set, we can actually observe how the DtB plan would have changed the composition of the State Meet in 2008 in the often-problematic boys Class AA division.

One way to frame the discussion about the MSHSL State Meet qualifying system is to think of it in terms of the “other eight” teams. Nothing that DtB has proposed and very few of the other solutions we’ve heard around the “virtual water-cooler” have advocated ditching the sectional qualifying framework. Section qualifying is an MSHSL staple – across its sports’ landscape – and a big part of Minnesota’s high school sport's tradition.

That being the case, if we consider sectional qualifying sacred and assume that section champs will and continue to earn the right to compete at State, then eight teams – the “first eight” – are essentially not part of the discussion. Win your section – whether you’re the #1-ranked team in the state or a team that’s never gotten a coaches’ poll vote – and you’re in the meet, no questions asked. You’re the section champ, after all!

That means, in 2008, #6 Owatonna, #10 Chaska, Burnsville, #4 White Bear Lake, Coon Rapids, #1 Wayzata, #5 Moorhead, and #7 Forest Lake, the section champs of 2008, are not part of the analysis and discussions below. What we’re really discussing, when we talk about changes to the system – or the need to keep things as they stand – is how to choose the “other eight” teams at State. That is, the State participants that aren’t section champs.

Currently, of course, the “second eight” are selected based on whoever finishes second in their section. Simple enough, except that not all sections are equally strong and history has shown that more than a few deserving teams – teams ranked in the 12-deep Coaches Association rankings after sections – have not qualified for State.

To get specific, the “other eight” teams in this year’s meet are:

#11 Lakeville South
St. Thomas Academy
#9 Roseville
#2 Eden Prairie
Duluth East
#8 Alexandria

Four of those teams, you’ll notice, are not ranked in the top-12 of the state rankings.

The following state-ranked teams are not in the State Meet because they finished worse than runner-up in their section:

#3 Edina
#12 Minneapolis South

Last year DtB proposed a system, whereby a section’s teams’ finish at the State Meet would determine whether more teams than just the section’s champion would qualify to State the following year. The post where we described the system -- and some additional tweaks we thought might be reasonable -- is HERE.

In a nutshell, the system works such that, if none of a section’s teams finished in the top eight in a previous year, that section would only qualify its champion to State in the current year. If a section had one team in the top eight, it would qualify an additional team the next year. If a section had two teams in the top eight, it would qualify two additional teams the next year.

Now that we know the make-up of the 2008 State Meet field, we can actually observe how the proposed system would have worked this year in boys’ Class AA. Granted, a single season isn’t the end-all for analyzing competing systems, but it can be instructive all the same.

If such the system had been in place this year based on last year’s State results, the “other eight” teams at State in Class AA on Saturday would be:

Willmar … 2AA runner-up
St. Thomas Academy .. 3AA runner-up
#9 Roseville … 4AA runner-up
#2 Eden Prairie … 6AA runner-up
#8 Alexandria … 8AA runner-up
Rosemount … 3AA 3rd place
#3 Edina … 6AA 3rd place
Bemidji … 8AA 3rd place

The following ranked teams would be out the meet:

#11 Lakeville South
#12 Minneapolis South

The following teams that are in the actual 2008 State Meet but not in State via the DtB plan are:

#11 Lakeville South
Duluth East

Another way to put it is that you’re trading those three teams listed above for:

#3 Edina

As you can see, using the previous year’s top eight to choose the second tier of State teams this year would have done a slightly better job of strengthening the field at State than the current system. While the same number of ranked teams still on the outside looking in at State – two – is the same in both plans, the top ten teams in the rankings all make the meet with the DtB plan because #3 Edina gets in the meet based on the strength of Section 6AA at State last year. The system didn’t actually add to the number of ranked teams, because another ranked team, albeit a lower-ranked one, #11 Lakeville South, got bumped by the DtB system.

DtB also suggested last year that using a mix of qualifiers earned the previous year and teams selected by an objective committee might be a more precise way to get the most deserving teams on the starting line at State. We suggested that six teams could be earned at the previous year’s State Meet and another two could be selected by the committee of coaches and officials. The two “selected teams” could work as a fail-safe for outstanding teams that rise from sections that haven’t earned enough extra qualifying slots to advance them to State.

If such a system was in force for 2008, the field would, we think, look like this:

“Earned Teams”
Willmar … 2AA runner-up
St. Thomas Academy … 3AA runner-up
#9 Roseville … 4AA runner-up
#2 Eden Prairie … 6AA runner-up
#8 Alexandria … 8AA runner-up
Rosemount … 3AA 3rd place

“Selected Teams”
#3 Edina
#11 Lakeville South

We’re assuming, of course, an objective committee would select #3 Edina and #11 Lakeville South, the top-ranked but-as-yet-not-qualified teams in Class AA.

In that case, only a single team ranked in the top-12 is left at home in 2008:

#12 Minneapolis South.

The following teams who are in the actual 2008 State Meet but not in via this second DtB method would be:

Duluth East

Or, put another way, you’re trading those two schools – neither of which are ranked – for:

#3 Edina

Sorting it All Out … I think the DtB systems fared pretty well in 2008. Ideally, we would like to have seen one of our plans put all 12 ranked team in the meet. That was impossibility from the start for our “eight earned teams” plan, because in the first year of its existence no more than three schools could qualify from a single section. For a Minneapolis South – 4th in their section -- to make it to State solely via the eight earned teams plan, Section 6AA would need to have had three top-8 finishers at the previous year’s State meet, and you don’t get a third team, of course, until you've earned the third team.

The six-earned, two-selected plan didn’t pick up South either. After the earned slots were awarded, there were still three ranked teams awaiting two selected slots, and #12 Minneapolis South was behind #11 Lakeville South in the pecking order. If you’re going to leave a ranked team behind, it is best that it be the lowest-ranked one, but ideally the top-12 would all be in the meet.

That neither plan brought Minneapolis South into the meet prompts one to look at the strength of teams that got to State via “earned” slots. If only eleven ranked teams made the meet, then, obviously, five un-ranked teams advanced. Only half of the teams qualifying in the “other eight” with “earned” slots were ranked – 4 of 8 and 3 of 6 in the two plans. We anticipated the earned slots would bring more ranked teams than un-ranked ones into the meet. Perhaps it was an odd year that way.

Or, maybe sectional strength moves around between sections in a way that makes using one year’s State Meet results to earn the next year’s qualifiers a less than ideal way to select the State Meet field. It improved the quality of the field relative to the current system, it should be stressed, but did so less accurately than we expected or hoped. We liked the “all-earned” system because of its objectivity, but acknowledge that the system that mixed earned and selected teams chose a stronger State Meet field – assuming of course the selectors would identify and choose the most deserving teams.

Based on 2008 – which is only a single year’s worth of data, we feel compelled to note -- employing three “selected” teams and only 5 “earned” teams would have struck a better balance and gathered a stronger field. Such a plan would have put #12 Minneapolis South in the meet at the expense of un-ranked Rosemount, a qualifier via our other plans.

Getting the #3 team in the State meet, though, was the critical problem of 2008, we think. In a 16-team State Meet, it’s an egregious shortcoming for a qualifying system not to advance the #3-ranked team. Both of our systems solved that problem.

In sum, we still think the MSHSL should modify its current manner of advancing teams to State. We acknowledge that neither of the DtB plans would have worked “perfectly” in 2008, but both improved the quality of the field – getting #3 on the starting line.

If the strength of the State Meet field is an important value – and we feel strongly that it should be – a system that combines earned and selected teams to fill the “other eight” slots of the State Meet field is still the course to follow.

Polls Make Blake, Adrian the Class A Favorites

If the Class A cross country coaches polls reflects reality, the Blake boys and the Adrian girls are set to be crowned state champions at Saturday's MSHSL State Meet in Northfield. The teams top the final poll of the season.

Should Adrian win the girls' title, it would mark the 4th-straight year the team has brought the state champion's trophy to their far southwestern corner of the state. Individually, defending girls' champ Linda Keller of Paynesville tops the girls' poll, while Pequot Lakes Clayton Foster is the #1-ranked Class A boy.

Find full rankings below:

Class A Boys

1. Blake
2. Mora
3. Mound Park Academy
4. Pequot Lakes
5. Perham
6. Adrian
7. Plainview-Elgin-Millville
8. Jackson County Central
9. Albany
10. Redwood Valley Area
11. St. Cloud Cathedral
12. Farimont

1. Clayton Foster Pequot Lakes
2. Ryan Tholen Tracy-Milroy-Balaton
3. Paul Koullick Blake
4. Patrick Byrant DeLaSalle
5. Aaron Haley Plainview-E-M
6. Stewart Richardson Blake
7. Nate Reynes Adrian
8. Moses Heppner Warroad
9. Connor Gjerve Annandale
10. Landon Bauer Albany
11. Austin Bauer Milaca
12. Andrew Gerdts LeSueur-Henderson

Class A Girls

1. Adrian
2. Staples-Motley
3. Holy Family
4. Perham
5. Rochester Lourdes
6. Paynesville
7. Canby-Minneota/LinHi
8. LaCrescent
9. Farimont
10. MilleLacs
11. Crosby-Ironton
12. Annandale

1. Linda Keller Paynesville Area
2. Naomi Landecker Staples-Motley
3. Lauren Rice Holy Family
4. Greta Danielson St. Cloud Cathedral
5. Anne Hart St. Paul Acad
6. Laura Christenson Murray County Cent
7. Kayla Woltz Chatfield
8. Adriana Flores Medford
9. Hannah Miner Sibley East
10. Lydia Lutz Park Rapids Area
11. Maddie McClellan Perham
12. Lauren Friese Fairmont

Monday, October 27, 2008

Polls Tab Wayzata, Eden Prairie the Favorites

The Wayzata boys and the Eden Prairie girls cross country teams will toe the starting line at Saturday's MSHSL State Meet as the favorites in Class AA. The two teams top the final Class AA polls released today.

The Trojans, the #2-ranked squad in the NXN Heartland Region as well, have topped the boys ranking all season. The Eagle girls, #3 in the Heartland, replaced Lakeville North atop the Class AA rankings in the latter weeks of the season.

Full rankings are below.

Boys' Class AA

1 Wayzata
2 Eden Prairie
3 Edina
4 White Bear Lake
5 Moorhead
6 Owatonna
7 Forest Lake
8 Alexandria
9 Roseville
10 Chaska
11 Lakeville South
12 Minneapolis South

Votes: Stillwater, Minnetonka

1 Jacob Zivec, Grand Rapids JV
2 Zach Mellon 12 Buffalo
3 Mahad Hassan 12 Willmar
4 Drew Paradis, 12 Alexandria
5 Dylan Cheever, 12 Minneapolis Southwest
6 Robel Kebede 12 Mpls. South
7 Lukas Gemar, 10, Moorhead
8 Ryan Evans, 12, Centennial
9 Jeremy Drenckhahn 12 Wayzata
10 Jacob Bastyr, 12 Owatonna
11 John Holt, Roseville
12 Danny Ducharme 12 Wayzata

Jon-Michael Brandt, 11 Winona
Kemal Jarso, 11, St. Paul Central
Besufekad Shannon-Tamra 12 Hopkins
Adam Zutz, 10, St. Francis

Girls' Class AA

1 Eden Prairie --- 1st 6AA
2 Lakeville North --- 1st 1AA
3 Minnetonka --- 2nd 6AA
4 Woodbury --- 2nd 4AA
5 White Bear Lake --- 1st 4AA
6 Prior Lake --- 1st 3AA
7 Eastview --- 2nd 3AA
8 Chaska --- 1st 2AA
9 Moorhead --- 1st 8AA
10 Coon Rapids --- 1st 5AA
11 Stillwater --- 3rd 4AA
12 Shakopee --- 2nd 2AA
13 Grand Rapids --- 1st 7AA
14 Becker --- 2nd 8AA
15 Centennial --- 2nd 5AA
16 Wayzata --- 3rd 6AA

1 Claire Guidinger, 11, Winona --- 1st 1AA
2 Jamie Piepenburg, 9, Alexandria --- 1st 8AA
3 Cassy Opitz, 12, Eden Prairie --- 1st 6AA
4 Katie Moraczewski, 12, White Bear Lake --- 1st 4AA
5 Julia Harrison, 10, Mound-Westonka --- 1st 2AA
6 Laura Docherty, 12, Cretin-Derham Hall --- 2nd 4AA
7 Emma Bates, 11, Elk River --- 1st 7AA
8 Alexandra Rudin, 10, Eden Prairie --- 2nd 6AA
9 Maria Hauger, 8, Shakopee --- 2nd 2AA
10 Sharmila Ahmed, 10, Burnsville --- 1st 3AA
11 Rachel Drake, 12, White Bear Lake --- 3rd 4AA
12 Anne Ferguson, 10, Eastview --- 3AA
13 Caitlin Hewes, 10, Stillwater --- 4th 4AA
14 Chrissy Monson, 8, Albert Lea --- 2nd 1AA
15 Ella Smith, 12, Becker --- 2nd 8AA
16 Slaine Kelly, 11, Holy Angels --- 3rd 3AA

Friday, October 24, 2008

Short-Cut: Results' Links for October 22-26

Along with the high school Section Meet results that have been rolling in since Wednesday, the headline event of the weekend is the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Championships in Aberdeen, South Dakota on Saturday. The area's top Division II schools will battle in the newly expanded conference.

There's a comprehensive preview of the meet HERE, thanks to the NSIC sports information folks. Minnesota State Mankato, ranked #18 in D2, is the men's favorite. The University of Minnesota - Duluth women, the top-ranked Minnesota team in the field at #16, looks to have its hands full against #3-ranked Augustana of South Dakota.

Defending individual titlist Anna VanWechel of Moorhead State returns to defend her women’s crown as does Wayne State’s Nate Preston for the men.

Here's where to find this weekend's important results ...

High School Section Results: HERE, HERE, and in the discussion thread HERE

Friday's UW - Eau Claire Invite: HERE

Saturday's NSIC Championships: HERE

Saturday's Jack's Run at the U of M: HERE

Saturday's Anoka Gray Ghost 5K: HERE

Kirkpatrick on 6AA: " ...a blessing and a curse."

On the heels of his team's 3rd place finish at the Section 6AA cross country meet on Wednesday, Down the Backstretch asked #3-ranked Edina's head coach Jamie Kirkpatrick to talk about his team's section race and to share his thoughts on the State Meet qualifying system.

Kirkpatick's Hornets have finished 3rd in Section 6AA four times in the last six years, but have never found themselves ranked worse than #7 in the state in the end-of-the-season polls during that span. Edina earned a trip to State from 6AA in 2004 and finished 4th there.

Kirkpatrick (pictured) offers his take on his team's race, the reality of life in 6AA, and his ideas about what, if anything, should be changed in the MSHSL qualifying procedures.

DtB: How did you and your team approach the Section 6AA meet, knowing the top three teams in the state were racing for two berths at State?

Kirkpatrick: We generally prepare for all meets in the same way – we don’t want to start changing things all of a sudden at the end of the season. That being said, we probably “backed off” a bit more than we would have otherwise since we knew it was do or die. Maybe we backed off too much, who knows?

DtB: Was the 6AA meet something that loomed over the team all season?

Kirkpatrick: I don’t think so. We took the season one meet at a time, but it is obviously hard to ignore the fact that the top three teams in the state are in the same section. The kids are always pretty confident in their ability to do things, I think the coaches were more worried than anything.

DtB: When could you see that finishing first or second wasn't going to happen for your team?

Kirkpatrick: I knew we were in a bit of trouble about 2K into the race. One of the guys we needed to have a big day was a bit off the main pack and not looking very good. Then, at about 3k, I knew we were all but done. Our 5th guy was going the wrong direction and the Wayzata and Eden Prairie kids were moving very well. If you have watched those two teams race much, you know that it’s pretty rare for them to fall apart in the later stages of a race.

DtB: What was your immediate reaction to ending up third?

Kirkpatrick: I guess I was pretty upset, but it wasn’t so much about being third. I don’t think we performed very well. Wayzata and Eden Prairie ran so well that I’m not sure we would have been able to beat them on our best day. I am pretty confident that the two best teams qualified out of our section, but I felt like we got out there and stunk up the place and made it a bit easy on them. Obviously we didn’t have the kids prepared well enough and they didn’t step up enough to make a run at it.

DtB: How did your team take the result?

Kirkpatrick: Some took it harder than others, but as you would imagine, they were all pretty disappointed. At the same time, they are kids and they are resilient. They got their cool down in and it didn’t take them long to start looking forward to the NXN Regional and Track season.

DtB: A number of people -- myself included -- see your situation this year as further evidence that the MSHSL cross country qualifying system is seriously flawed. How do you feel about the system?

Kirkpatrick: That’s an interesting question, because it probably seems like I would be a huge detractor of our current system considering we have been 3rd in Section 6AA in four out of the last six seasons. But I see it as a blessing and a curse. There is no doubt in my mind that our teams have been better as a result of having the tough State qualifying situation. We have had to work harder to be competitive, and it is pretty clear that we have even more work to do! I would be surprised if Bill [Miles of Wayzata] or Jeff [Lindlief of Eden Prairie] said that their teams weren’t better because of it as well.

At the same time, I would be lying if I said that it isn’t horribly frustrating. But the fact of the matter is that we have the same qualifying structure as every other sport in Minnesota – one that is geographically based. No other sport has provisions to get top teams to the State Championships if they are cursed with a tough Section.

Where I see it as being more problematic in our sport, versus say Basketball, is that we don’t have a team-versus-team, one game elimination tournament. There is less notion of the “on any given day,” something good could happen for our team. If you are the 4th best Cross Country team in 6AA (read Minneapolis South this fall), you aren’t just playing against Edina or Eden Prairie or Wayzata, you are playing against all three at the same time. Not to mention the solid teams who are nipping at your heels. The chances of an upset in that type of scenario aren’t good.

It has been tough being the odd team out quite a bit recently, but in my mind it would be even harder to show up at a Section Meet year after year with no chance of qualifying. There are programs that field very good teams year after year and are never in the hunt in 6AA, but would have qualified for the State meet many of those years in other Sections. I can’t imagine that is good for those kids or the programs. While they might not admit it, or might not want to hear it, there are teams in our section that will never make it to a State Meet in our current system no matter what they do – even if they manage to put together a top-10 type team.

All that being said, the system is what it is and it probably won’t change anytime soon. The way I look at it is that it certainly hasn’t slowed Eden Prairie down very much, they have been to the State Meet seven straight years on the boys side. Many of those years they weren’t favored to do so, but they figured out a way to get the job done. We have figured out how to get third – so we can complain about the system or we can work harder, coach better and run faster. But that doesn’t help the teams that are a bit further down the “list” than we are.

DtB: What changes to the system would you make?

Kirkpatrick: I would love to see a regional qualifying plus at large system like is used in the NCAA, but I don’t think that is very realistic. I think the best shot at making things a little more palatable is to move to a “super regional” system where there are four regions with four (or more) qualifiers. I will say that there are a lot of coaches that don’t want the system changed for a variety of reasons. This will make any change a tough sell to the MSHSL as the first question they will ask is “do you have support of your coaches’ association?"

DtB: Next year, it's likely your team will again be in the thick of the 6AA fray. Are you eager for another 6AA battle or anxious about it?

Kirkpatrick: I think you are right, we have a lot of talented young kids in our program and we should be right there again next fall. The same can be said about Wayzata and Eden Prairie – and it would be silly to dismiss teams like Minneapolis South and Minnetonka who have put together very good squads the last several years. With regard to whether I am eager about that race or anxious about it, it’s probably a bit of both. It is easy to be excited about getting on to next year when your season ended somewhat abruptly, but by the time next October rolls around, there is no question I will be a bit uneasy about the meet.

It is unlikely that things are going to get better in 6AA anytime soon – although there is always hope in years of section realignment, which will happen for 2009. Bill Miles and I were talking before the race on Wednesday about how everyone (currently in 6AA) would be happy if Wayzata went to Section 5 and Eden Prairie went to Section 2. But that isn’t going to happen, so we will just have to get to work.

DtB: How difficult will it be to see the team trophies awarded at State this year -- especially, perhaps, the third-place trophy?

Kirkpatrick: To be honest, it is much tougher to see the other section results rolling in. There are a lot of teams headed to Saint Olaf next weekend that we raced and beat pretty handily throughout the season. The State Meet is a special experience, and it goes beyond getting on the awards stand for the top three teams. I wish our kids had that opportunity this fall, but it will have to wait.

Photo by Kraig Lungstrom

Carleton, St. Thomas Flip-Flop in D3 Poll

The Carleton College women's cross country team, winners at their home invitational last weekend, have moved back ahead of MIAC rival St Thomas in the latest NCAA Division III poll released yesterday.

Carleton is ranked #11; St. Thomas is ranked #14. Last week, the Knights were ranked #13 and the Tommies were ranked #11,

Carleton and St. Thomas have won the last four MIAC cross country titles -- the Tommies winning in in 2006 and 2007 (with Carleton runners-up) and Carleton winning in 2004 and 2005 (with the Tommies runners-up in 2005).

Calvin College of Michigan leads the rankings. Central Region power Wartburg of Iowa is ranked #2. St. Olaf is ranked #27; Bethel is ranked #28.

Full women's rankings can be found HERE.

Men's Reshuffle ... St. Thomas leads Minnesota schools in the D3 men's poll. Their #26 ranking tops St. Olaf by a single place. Hamline, which was ranked as high as #15 earlier in the season, fell out of the rankings this week after a close defeat to St. Olaf.

Cortland State of New York leads the poll, which can be found in its entirety HERE.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

#3 Edina Boys Eliminated at Section 6AA;
Four Top-10 Teams Won't Run at State

Edina, the #3-ranked team in boys' Class AA, won't compete at the MSHSL State Cross Country Championships next weekend after finishing a non-qualifying third at the Section 6AA meet at Gale Woods in Minnetrista this Wednesday.

#1-ranked Wayzata won the 6AA boys' competition with 28 points; #2 Eden Prairie finished second with 51. Edina tallied 89 points; #9 Minneapolis South finished 4th with 126 points.

In girls' competition, the #1-ranked Eden Prairie girls won with 24 points, followed by #3 Minnetonka which tallied 58. Wayzata was third with 89; #9 Hopkins was fourth with 105.

Full results of the meet can be found HERE.

Two teams from each section qualify to State. Section competition opened Wednesday and continues through Friday across the state.

The MSHSL has a full listing of section meets HERE.

Elsewhere ... The #4-ranked White Bear Lake boys won Section 4AA with 42 points over un-ranked Roseville which tallied 68. #7-ranked Stillwater finished a non-qualifying third with 70 points.

In 4AA girls' competition, #5 White Bear Lake topped #4 Woodbury 42-68. #12-ranked Stillwater finished third with 85 points.

Complete 4AA results can be found HERE.

Our Opinion: Fix the System ... As regular readers of Down the Backstretch know, MSHSL State Meet qualifying is an issue we've voiced our opinion on before. We think the current qualifying system is unfair to top-notch teams who happen to be in strong sections.

We offered THIS proposal last year -- a proposal, we can't help but note, would have allowed the #3-ranked Class AA boys to race at State next weekend.

Let Us Know What You Think ... Last year, 69% of readers who participated in our DtB poll (see results at right) thought the State Meet system needed fixing. Let us know your opinion in the comment section below ...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Gopher Squads Drop in NCAA Poll

While it's nothing as precipitous as what's happening with the Dow Jones Industrial Average, stock in the Gopher cross country teams dropped this week.

On the heels of last weekend's Pre-National Meet in Indiana, the Gopher women dropped from #4 to #7 in the NCAA Division I coaches poll, while the Minnesota men fell from #14 to #20.

The Gopher women finished 3rd in their division at Pre-Nationals; the Gopher men finished 5th in theirs.

The University of Washington tops the women's poll, followed by Oregon and Florida State. The Gopher women are the top Big Ten team in the poll but are followed closely by Michigan (#8), Michigan State (#9), and Illinois (#10).

Oregon leads the men's poll, followed by Garrett and Elliott Heath-powered Stanford, and Oklahoma State, where Minnesotans Ryan Little and Jon Stublaski compete. The Gopher men are the 4th-highest ranked Big Ten team in the poll.

The complete Division I polls can be found HERE.

Mead Earns Praise ... University of Minnesota sophomore Hassan Mead was named the Big Ten Conference Runner of the Week for his performance at Pre-Nationals. The Minneapolis South graduate finished third in his race and was the meet's highest-finishing Big Ten runner. Mead clocked a University of Minnesota 8K record of 23:33.

The honor is Mead’s second Big Ten weekly honor of the season. The Gopher standout claimed his first career award after his runner-up final at the Roy Griak Invitational in late September.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Klecker, Marks, and Tollefson to Speak

Olympians Janis Klecker, Shani Marks, and Carrie Tollefson will participate in a panel discussion titled "Minnesota Female Olympians: Stories, Experiences & Inspirations" tomorrow evening at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Center.

The program begins at 7:00 p.m. Details can be found HERE. There's a brief interview with Marks promoting the event, HERE.

The discussion, moderated by U of M sociology professor Doug Hartmann, is part of series of lectures that explores issues related to girls' and women's involvement in sport and physical activity.

"The performances of Olympic athletes inspire and captivate our imaginations," promotional material about the event said. "However, the Olympics are not only about medal counts and wins and losses. They occur within a complex set of issues related to gender, class, race and nationalism. To provide context for this complexity, along with acknowledging the accomplishments of our distinguished sportswomen, Professor Hartmann will critique the Olympics in general and the Beijing Olympics in particular. He will share his own experiences of his travels to China followed by a discussion with our featured panelists where we'll learn about their life stories and inspirations."

Klecker, a U of M graduate, participated in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics as a marathoner. She won the Olympic Trials Marathon that year, one of five she qualified for in her sterling career.

Marks competed in the triple jump at the Beijing Games this summer. The Gopher alum, who won the 2008 Olympic Trials in the event, was a three-time all-American as a collegian.

Tollefson, who competed in the 2004 Athens Games in the 1500 meters, was a 13-time Minnesota State High School League champion and a five-time NCAA champion. The Villanova University alum won the Olympic Trials 1500m in 2004.

Speaking of Olympians ... Duluth native Kara Goucher was inducted into the University of Colorado Athletic Hall of Fame over the weekend. There's a nice recap of her CU career HERE, thanks to the University of Colorado sports media folks.

Goucher, of course, is preparing for her marathon debut at next weekend's ING New York City Marathon.

Three 6AA Squads Top Boys Team Poll

Heading into this week's high school section meet action, three Section 6AA teams lead the state's Boys' Class AA cross country team rankings. Only two teams, of course, will advance to the MSHSL State Championships in Northfield on November 1.

Wayzata continues to top the poll as it has done all season, followed by Lake Conference champion Eden Prairie, #2, and Edina, #3, which finished runner-up to Wayzata in the Classic Lake Conference.

All three teams are ranked in the top-6 of the Nike Cross National Heartland Region as well. Still, one of the three best teams in the state will watch the State Championships from the sidelines next weekend. The Section 6AA meet takes place Wednesday at Gale Woods Park in Minnetrista.

Find full boy's Class AA rankings below. We'll add girls' Class AA ranking to this post as soon as they are released.

Find Class A rankings HERE.

Class AA Boys

1 Wayzata
2 Eden Prairie
3 Edina
4 White Bear Lake
5 Moorhead
6 Forest Lake
7 Stillwater
8 Owatonna
9 Minneapolis South
10 Alexandria
11 Chaska
12 Lakeville South

1 Jacob Zivec, Grand Rapids JV
2 Mahad Hassan 12 Willmar
3 Zach Mellon 12 Buffalo
4 Besufekad Shannon-Tamra 12 Hopkins
5 Robel Kebede 12 Mpls. South
6 Lukas Gemar, 10, Moorhead
7 Jeremy Drenckhahn 12 Wayzata
8 Eric Truedson, 12 Bemidji
9 John Holt, Roseville
10 Jakob Lindaas, 12, Moorhead
11 Ryan Evan, 12, Centennial
12 Jacob Bastyr, 12 Owatonna

Monday, October 20, 2008

Gopher Coaches Pleased with Pre-Nationals

The University of Minnesota women's and men's cross country teams left Indiana State's LaVern Gibson cross country course feeling good about themselves. Five weeks before the squads hope to return to the venue to compete at the NCAA Championships, both earned top-5 finishes in their division of the Pre-National Meet held Saturday.

The Gopher women finished 3rd; the Gopher men finished 5th.

Women ... “We fought hard today,” women's coach Gary Wilson said in a media release. “The field went out extremely fast in the first kilometer of the race. We wanted to take that first K at our normal pace, and we stayed poised, but that also meant we needed to keep fighting and fighting...working very hard to pass people as the race progressed. It was a tough race, but a good race for us. I’m pleased with our outcome."

Megan Duwell led the team with an 18th place finish in 20:45 over the 6K course in the women's "Blue Race.". Gabriele Anderson finished 40th in 21:13.1, Felicitas Mensing was 42nd in 21:13.9, Mallory Van Ness was 46th in 21:16.5, Amy Laskowske finished 52nd in 21:18.4, Jamie Cheever was 70th in 21:29.0, and Heather Dorniden was 81st in 21:36.9.

The #1-ranked University of Washington sqaud handily won the race with 36 points, #13 Villanova was 2nd with 126. The #4-ranked Gophers tallied 198.

Men ... Sophomore star Hassan Mead led the Gopher with a 3rd place finish in the men's "Blue Race."

Hassan did a great job of working his way up through the field,” men's coach Steve Plasencia said. “Hassan was probably 50th at the mile mark but found David (Alabama’s Tyson David) and was able to go with him to create a bit of distance from the rest of the field. McNeill (Northern Arizona’s David McNeill) caught them down the last stretch. It was a very close finish."

Mead was followed by teammates Chris Rombough,8th in 23:47.3, Mike Torchia 67th in 24:38.3, Sean Olson 72nd in 24:41.2, Ben Blankenship 84th in 24:47.8, Ben Kampf 118th in 25:04.7, and Mike McFarland 125th in 25:06.8.

Alabama, ranked #6 in the nation coming into the meet, won the division with 89 points. The #14-ranked Gopher men were 5th with 234.

Minnesotan Notes ... Former Winona High School star Garrett Heath led the Stanford University men's team to a victory in the men's "White Race" with a 3rd place, 23:36 finish. Younger brother Elliott Heath was the #3-man for the Cardinal finishing 12th in 23:48. Edina alum Tom Burke finished 53rd for Willliam and Mary in the "Blue Race" in 24:28. Eden Prairie alum Ryan Little finished 98th in 24:54 for Oklahoma State in the "Blue Race," teammate Johnathan Stublaski, a Henry Sibley alum, was 157th in 25:22. Winona Cotter grad Don Wasinger finished 160th for Kansas in te "White Race" in 25:21.1.

Prior Lake native Megan Brandeland helped her Princeton team to a runner-up finish in the women's "White Race," finishing 14th in 20:47. Detroit Lakes alum Hanna Grinaker finished 34th in the "Blue Race" in 21:08. Mankato Loyola alum Sarah Price finished 70th in 21:30 for Michigan State, which finished a place behind the Gopher women in the "Blue Race."

Friday, October 17, 2008

Short-Cut: Results' Links for October 17-19

Along with hearing how the Gopher teams do at Pre-Nationals in Terre Haute tomorrow -- we previewed that meet earlier, HERE -- we're also keen to see what happens among the MIAC men's teams racing at the Drews/Neubauer Invitational in La Crosse, Wisconsin on Saturday.

There, the top-ranked team in Division III's Central Region, Hamline (ranked #15 nationally), will tangle with St. Olaf, #5 in the region, and defending MIAC champions St. John's, the region's #7-ranked school. Two other squads with designs on the MIAC champion's trophy will be competing elsewhere this weekend: St. Thomas, #4 in the region, competes in Albany, New York; Bethel, #6 in the Central, races at UW - Oshkosh.

Only one of the MIAC's two top-ranked women's teams compete this weekend. St. Thomas, ranked #2 in the region (#11 in the nation) takes the weekend off after winning the San Francisco State Invitational last weekend. Carleton, #3 in the region and #13 in Division III, competes at home.

Find complete D3 regional rankings HERE, and national rankings HERE.

Find links to results of all of the aforementioned meets -- and more -- below ...

NCAA Division I Pre-Nationals: Results
Update: Gopher women 3rd, Gopher men 5th ... Mead 3rd.

Jim Drews/Tori Neubauer Invitational: Results
Update: St. Olaf men and women lead MIAC in La Crosse

UW - Oshkosh Invitational: Women's Results * Men's Results
Update: Borner wins, UMD, Bethel 3rd, 4th for women; Bethel men 13th.

Carleton Invitational: Women's Results * Men's Results
Update: Carleton teams sweep home invite.

SUNY-Albany Invite: Results
Update: Tommie men 3rd.

Crown College Invitational: Results
Update: Concordia-Moorhead sweeps team, individual crowns.

USATF Minnesota Cross Country Challenge: Men's Results * Women's Results * USATF Team Results
Update: Run N Fun sweeps open division titles.

Wayzata Boys Featured by Nike Midwest Tour

The Wayzata boys cross country team -- ranked #1 among Class AA schools in Minnesota and #2 in the Heartland Region -- got a visit from the Nike Midwest Tour folks recently. As part of its promotion of Nike Cross Nationals, the Trojans were featured in a few short videos on the Nike Midwest Tour web-site.

You can watch Wayzata run its annual Pumpkin Pie Run HERE.

Watch them slingshot water-balloons HERE.

Latest NXN Rankings ... Wayzata remains the #2-ranked boys team in the Heartland, behind top-ranked Bismarck of North Dakota, in rankings released yesterday. Eden Prairie is ranked #3 in the poll; Edina is ranked #6.

In girls rankings, Lake Conference champ Eden Prairie is the top-ranked Minnesota team at #3, followed by conference rivals Lakeville North, #4, and Minnetonka, #9. South Dakota's Sioux Falls Roosevelt leads the girls' poll.

Find full Heartland rankings HERE.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Gopher Women to Face #1 Washington

The #4-ranked University of Minnesota women's cross country team will face #1-ranked Washington in Saturday's "Blue Race" at the NCAA Pre-National meet in Terre Haute, Indiana.

The meet, which draws many of the top Division I teams to the course that will host the NCAA Championships in November, splits its women's and men's entrants into two races.

The Gopher women will face twelve nationally ranked teams including top-10 ranked Stanford (#6) and Michigan (#9).

The #14-ranked Golden Gopher men have been placed in the men's "Blue Race" where they will face #2-ranked Oklahoma State, a Midwest Region rival. Eleven nationally ranked teams will compete in the "Blue Race," including #6 Alabama, #9 Michigan, #13 Florida State.

Complete race assignments can be found HERE.

The Gopher women's varsity squad at Pre-Nationals will be: Gabriele Anderson (Sr., Perham, Minn./Perham), Jamie Cheever (Jr., Minneapolis, Minn./Southwest), Heather Dorniden (Jr., Inver Grove Heights, Minn./Rosemount), Megan Duwell (Jr., West Bend, Wis./West Bend West), Amy Laskowske (Jr., Palatine, Ill./Palatine), Felicitas Mensing (Gr., Neuhausen, Germany/Kepler/Coastal Carolina), and Mallory Van Ness (Jr., Shoreview, Minn./Mounds View/Missouri).

The full Gopher women's media release for the event can be found HERE.

The Gopher men plan to contest the meet with: Ben Blankenship (So., Stillwater, Minn./Stillwater/Mississippi State), Ben Kampf (Jr., Farmington, Minn./Farmington), Mike McFarland (So., Hartland, Wis./Arrowhead), Hassan Mead (So., Minneapolis, Minn./Minneapolis South), Sean Olson (R-Fr., Menomonie, Wis./Menomonie), Chris Rombough (Sr., Fremont, Wis./New London), Mike Torchia (So., Rochester, Minn./Lourdes).

The full men's media release for the meet is HERE.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Mead, Duwell Named Athletes of the Month

Golden Gopher harriers Hassan Mead and Megan Duwell were named Athletes of the Month for October by USA Track and Field - Minnesota yesterday.

Mead, a U of M sophomore, was recognized for his second place finish in the Division I men’s race at the Roy Griak Invitational cross country meet, hosted by the Gophers last month. Mead, a Minneapolis South alum, was a cross country all-American as a freshman in 2007.

Duwell, a Gopher junior, was honored for her own runner-up finish in the Division I women’s race at Griak. Duwell led the Minnesota women to their second-straight Griak team title.

USA Track & Field Minnesota selects Athletes of the Month to honor excellence in track and field and its related sports in Minnesota. USA Track & Field is the governing body of the sport in the United States and the Minnesota Association of USATF sanctions and sponsors track and field, cross country, road racing, and racewalking events for athletes of all ages in the state.

Speaking of the Gophers ... Both Minnesota cross country team held their spots in the latest NCAA Division I poll. The Gopher women are still ranked a program-best #4 in the country, while the Gopher men are #14. The Gopher women are the #1-ranked team in the Midwest Region, while the Gopher men are ranked #3 regionally.

Find the complete national poll HERE ... and the full regional rankings HERE.

Both teams compete at this weekend's Pre-National Meet in Terre Haute, Indiana. Seedings for the meet will be posted HERE later today.