Sunday, November 30, 2008

Stuffing Wins Tight Thanksgiving Battle;
Pumpkin Pie, Mashed Potatoes Tie for 2nd

Defending champion Stuffing edged Pumpkin Pie and Mashed Potatoes to win its second straight DtB Thanksgiving Poll championship today.

Stuffing, ranked #1 entering the four-day competition, earned 33% of the readers' votes.

Pumpkin Pie and Mashed Potatoes battled the defending champs throughout the competition, but ultimately tied for second with 29%. (As in collegiate cross country, ties in Thanksgiving Poll voting remain ties.)

2007 runner-up Turkey, though synonymous with the late-November holiday, finished 4th with 25%.

"I'm proud of the way we competed," Stuffing coach David Gates told DtB. "We won by a larger margin last year, but you never know how things will turn out in a tough competition like this one. A victory is a victory."

The bready side-dish tallied 52% of the vote en route to their 2007 title.

"The credit goes to the team," Gates added. "They're the ones who dressed for the competition. It's not like I gave them any sage advice that won it for them."

Gravy, which some observers thought might crack the top-3 this year, finished a distant 5th with 13%; Cranberries finished 6th with 12%. The two sides flip-flopped places from a year ago.

The 2009 DtB Thanksgiving Poll is scheduled to begin on November 27.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving from DtB!

Gobble gobble, track and cross country fans!

We're going to take the long holiday weekend off here at the Down the Backstretch, just like we did at this time last year.

We're also going to re-run our Thanksgiving readers' poll: What are your favorite Thanksgiving foods?

(Find the poll on our sidebar.)

Defending champion (and #1-ranked) Stuffing is the food to beat again 2008. Last year's runner-up, Turkey, ranked #2, looks strong again this year and #4 Mashed Potatoes and #5 Pumpkin Pie can't be counted out.

We think underrated (and un-ranked) Gravy is primed for a break-out performance in 2008, but #6 Cranberries, we're afraid, will do well to finish in the top half of the field this year.

#3-ranked Apple Pie, of course, did not qualify for the Thanksgiving Poll, failing to advance from the perennially-strong Pie Sectional.

So vote in our poll ... enjoy your Thanksgiving ... and join us again on Monday!

Gobble! Gobble!

Ashley Nord Earns Rhodes Scholarship

Quoting from the Gopher media release ...

"Ashley Nord cleared 13 feet as a pole vaulter for the Minnesota women’s track & field team last spring. Over the weekend, the Rapid City, S.D. native vaulted into an elite category accomplished by only the best and brightest scholars in the world.

Nord received word that she was chosen as a Rhodes Scholar, one of just 32 chosen in the U.S. this year. Nord graduated with a degree in astrophysics last May and is completing two more degrees in physics and global studies this fall. She will pursue a doctorate in physics at Oxford University in England.

In her pole vaulting career with the Golden Gophers, Nord was a member of three Big Ten championship teams and advanced to the NCAA Midwest Region Championships in 2007 and 2008. The four-time varsity letterwinner finished her career ranked fourth in the event in both the indoor and outdoor Minnesota record book."

Find the media release from the Rhodes Trust HERE.

Read today's Star-Tribune story by Rachel Blount about Nord HERE.

Read a Gopher Sports feature story on Nord HERE.

Photo of Nord courtesy of the U of M.

NCAA Wrap-Up: Minnesotans at the Show

Before we put the NCAA meets behind us and prepare for the holiday weekend, we thought we'd post a listing of all the Minnesotans who competed at yesterday's NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships.

Let us know if we've missed anyone ...

Megan Duwell, Minnesota, 32nd in 20:36
Hanna Grinaker, Wisconsin, 44th in 20:44
Gabriele Anderson, Minnesota, 49th in 20:48
Megan Brandeland, Princeton, 52nd in 20:50
Amy Laskowske, Minnesota, 94th in 21:10
Mallory Van Ness, Minnesota, 116th in 21:19
Heather Dorniden, Minnesota, 135th in 21:28
Jamie Cheever, Minnesota, 164th in 21:41
Sarah Price, Michigan State, 171st in 21:45
Bria Wetsch, Oregon, 184th in 21:50
Felicitas Mensing, Minnesota, 236th in 22:37

Chris Rombough, Minnesota, 17th in 29:54
Hassan Mead, Minnesota, 31st in 30:06
Garrett Heath, Stanford, 33rd in 30:08
Ben Blankenship, Minnesota. 100th in 30:55
Elliott Heath, Stanford, 112th in 31:00
Michael Krish, Georgetown, 117th in 31:02
Matt Barrett, Minnesota, 160th in 31:23
Mike McFarland, Minnesota, 171st in 31:27
Tom Burke, William and Mary, 195th in 31:45
Ben Puhl, Minnesota, 214th in 32:00
Mike Torchia, Minnesota, 231st in 32:25

Monday, November 24, 2008

Rombough 17th; Gopher Men 15th at NCAAs

Golden Gopher senior Chris Rombough finished 17th at the NCAA Championships today, becoming the Gopher's first-ever three-time All-American in cross country. Rombough was the top Minnesotan, finishing in 29:54.

Hear our exclusive interview with Rombough below ...

“I’m proud of Chris,” Gopher head coach Steve Plasencia said in a media release. “He’s a strong runner who loves cross country. He kept pounding away, moving up through the field. We are going to miss him.”

Hassan Mead of Minnesota placed 31st in 30:06 and Winona High School alum Garrett Heath of Stanford placed 33rd in 30:08. Both were named all-American.

“Hassan fought back but he didn’t have a good day,” Plasencia said.

The University of Minnesota men finished 15th in the team standings with 385 points.

Behind Rombough and Mead, Ben Blankenship finished 100th, Matt Barrett was 160th, Mike McFarland was 171st, Ben Puhl was 214th, and Mike Torchia was 231st.

“Overall we had a mediocre performance today," Plasencia said of the team performance. "We didn’t have a lot of zip. I’m thinking that running on that very difficult course at the regional meet may have taken a lot out of us. We didn’t start the race well and that left too much to make up. I guess it says something, though, when we aren’t necessarily pleased with a 15th-place finish at the NCAAs. We had higher hopes, higher expectations, but we just didn’t have the depth to pull it off.”

Hear our interview with Plasencia below ...

The pre-race favorite Oregon Ducks won the team title, led by individual champion Galen Rupp. Stanford, powered by Garrett Heath and his younger brother Elliott, who finished 112th, placed 3rd in the meet.

Find full team results HERE, individual results HERE.

Gopher Women Tie for 11th at Nationals

The University of Minnesota women's cross counry team finished in a tie for 11th at the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Indiana today.

The #6-ranked Golden Gophers tied with Michigan State at 336 points.

"“We ran a good team race today, though obviously we wanted to finish higher,” Gopher coach Gary Wilson said. “Strategically I thought we ran one of our best races of the year but a few teams like Stanford, Georgetown and Texas Tech had really, really good days. I am excited about extending that top-12 streak. I don’t think anyone realizes how difficult that is and what a great accomplishment for our program it is.”

Wilson talked to DtB about the meet and his team below ...

Junior Megan Duwell led the Gopher with a 32nd place, 20:36 performance over the 6K course, earning her all-American honors.

The Gophers only senior Gabriele Anderson was 49th in 20:48, junior Amy Laskowske was 94th in 21:10, junior Mallory Van Ness was 116th in 21:19, junior Heather Dorniden was 135th in 21:28, junior Jamie Cheever, an all-American last year, was 164 in 21:41, and grad student Felicitas Mensing finished 236th in 22:37.

The University of Washington women, the prohibitive pre-meet favorites took the team title with 79 points. Sally Kpiyego of Texas Tech became the first woman in NCAA history to win three cross country titles with her victory today.

Find full team results HERE, individual results HERE.

Top-8 Finish is Gopher Women’s Goal

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.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

NCAA XC: Reflections and Remembrances

It's NCAA Championship weekend again. Cross country teams from across the country have put the finishing touches on a long season of training, some hoping simply to hold on for one more race, others poised to surprise the competition with a perfectly timed peak. Whether you are talking about the Division I, II, or III level, the NCAA cross country meet is probably the single biggest day on the collegiate distance runner’s calendar.

The local running community looks on with interest. Saturday's DII and DIII races have come and gone, and we can celebrate the victory of a Minnesota woman in the DIII race. Many are curious to see how the Golden Gophers will fare on Monday, and some of us may be checking up on the old alma mater as well. For those of us who ran collegiate cross country, it is also a chance to look back and remember the journey.

For me, memories of NCAAs are bittersweet. I was a member of two NCAA championship teams at Stanford. Coached by current University of Oregon coach Vin Lananna, “the Machine” (as we called ourselves) was the dominant program of the late 1990s. Coach Lananna has done it again, taking an Oregon program steeped in tradition, and returning it to greatness.

When I think about my college team, I think about a great bunch of guys bonded closely by the pressures of performing on the course, and the greater pressures of a training regimen so intense that it pushed us either to become great or to crack.

I, unfortunately, usually fell into the “cracked” category. The best I could manage were my final two seasons, when I subbed in as a varsity runner at the district meet. I ran 6th or 7th on the team, which once was good enough for All-District honors, but never got me to the starting line at the national meet.

In 1997, I traveled with the team to Furman, South Carolina; I was the alternate – the guy who warmed up with the team and did the whole routine up until it was time to start the race, at which point, I stepped off to the side and assumed the role of cheerleader.

We won the meet. It was an incredible weekend to be a part of, and I truly cherish having been there with the team. But at the same time, it smarts that much more to be that close and not quite make it.

The disappointment of sitting out the national championship meet was certainly great, but it did not really take away from the experience of being a part of great teams. If I could go back and do it again, I would not have chosen to run for a team that was not quite as good, even if it meant I would have had more racing opportunities like the NCAA XC meet.

By running with the best, I learned how to push harder and dig deeper than I ever thought possible. I developed the humility to understand that the body can only be pushed so far before it rebels. Several of my teammates went on to run in the 2000 Olympics. I watched them qualify and compete with a great sense of pride.

The years that followed saw the typical post-collegiate dispersion and loss of contact. A couple of my teammates continue to train and race today. Most of them trained for another year or two after graduation, and then hung up the spikes. They felt like they had gone as far as they could in running. If there is a lesson to be learned from my experiences, it’s that at age 22 or 23, you are only beginning to come into your prime as a runner. I wonder what some of the guys who roundly whipped me meet-after-meet may have accomplished if they had continued to train with passion for another five or ten years.

If disappointment has a silver lining, it is found in the sense of possibility, the feeling of just missing something that could have been great, and being that much hungrier for a taste of success. I finished my collegiate career and turned a new page on running. Rather than staying with Coach Lananna and the Nike Farm Team, I joined a small club team called Hoy’s Excelsior, based in San Francisco. I ran cross country, road races, and eventually made it back to the track.

I did many of the same grueling workouts – six by a mile, or ten by a kilometer – and I continued to do them hard. However, I took more easy days in between, and I rested well before racing. Those minor adjustments took my career to a new level. Eventually, I ended up back in Minnesota and the marathon soon became my obvious niche.

When I watch NCAAs these days, it’s no longer with the envy of the guy who didn’t quite make it. I remember how hard it was just to make it there, and the pressure of having to time your training so well – to push yourself to new heights, and to balance there for that one day without stepping off the edge into the abyss of illness, injury, or overtraining. So when I watch, I feel pure unadulterated excitement to see such a mass of talented runners barreling along the course. The runners attack the race, fueled by miles and miles of base training, endless interval workouts, and the realization that, for a few moments, they are living their dreams.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bethel's Borner Wins Division III Title

Bethel University junior Marie Borner won the individual title at today's NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships. The reigning D3 indoor Mile champ ran down early leader Elise Tropiano of Amherst for the title.

The two-time MIAC cross country champion, clocked 20:43 over the serpentine Hanover College campus course.

University of St. Thomas senior Katie Theisen finished 13th in the race in 21:24

Listen to post-race audio with Borner (pictured) and her coach Jim Timp here ...

Borner is the seventh MIAC woman to win the Division III title, and the second in the last four years. Gustavus Adolphus College's Hailey Harren won in 2005, the Gustie's Sarah Edmonds won in 1992, Shelley Scherer and Anna Prineas, both of Carleton, won consequtive titles in 1987 and 1988, St. Thomas' Lisa Koelfgen won in 1986, and Macalester's Julie Kirtland won in 1984.

In team competition, St. Thomas finished 14th with 383 points, Bethel was 19th with 406, and Carleton finished 23rd with 471.

Middlebury College of Vermont won the team title with 179 points, Calvin College of Michigan was runner-up with 237.

Official results can be found HERE.

Photo by Charlie Mahler.

Mankato Men, Duluth Women 8th at D2

Led by Moorhead native James Krasja's 10th-place run, MSU-Mankato finished 8th at the Division II Championships in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. Krasja clocked 31:34 over the snowy 10-kilometer course.

The Mavericks scored 230 points, just six behind Queens (NC) and in front of the Colorodo School of Mines (254), a team they edged 108-115 at the Central Region meet two weeks ago.

Mankato entered the meet ranked 10th overall in the USTFCCCA poll and defeated Alaska-Anchorage and UMass-Lowell at nationals, two teams ranked ahead of the Mavericks in the final poll.

Junior Denise Mokaya was the second runner across the line for MSU, finishing 38th overall in 32:15. Freshman Dana Schmidt, and seniors Chad Janiszeski and Benjamin Klungtvedt rounded out the scoring.

Favorites Adams State won the team title with 67 points ahead of Western State's 88. After anouncing this week that he would turn pro after the season, Scott Bauhs of Chico State took home the individual crown in 30:23.

Full men's results are HERE.

Young UMD Shines ... In the women's race, freshman Morgan Place paced the University of Minnesota-Duluth to an 8th-place team finish. Place ran 21:49 over 6 kilometers, crossing the line 7th overall.

The Bulldogs finished with 249 points, sandwiched between Chico State (241) and Alaska-Anckorage (266).

UMD finished 4th in a talented central region to earn their first NCAA birth sinc 1994. They were ranked 11th in the final USTFCCCA poll.

Junior Liz Palkie, who finished 41st in last years national meet after qualifying individually, improved six places in 2008 with her 22:39 clocking. Bridget and Whitney Hines each ran 23:21 as the third and fourth Bulldogs.

All seven UMD runners have eligibility remaining for next season; all but Palkie have at least two years remaining.

Adams State won the meet with 79 points, taking both the men's and the women's title. Seattle Pacific Junior Jessica Pixler dominated the field; her winning time of 20:59 was 28 seconds clear of her closest competitor.

Full women's results are HERE.

Gleason, Ruon, Greeno are All-Americans at D3

Hamline University's Brandon Gleason (pictured, right), St. Olaf College's Dobuol Ruon, and Bethel University's Dan Greeno, the top Minnesota finishers in the NCAA Division III Men's Championships this morning, each earned all-American honors.

The award is conferred upon athletes finishing in the top-35 at the meet.

Gleason finished 13th in 24:47; Ruon was 22nd in 24:51, Greeno was 33rd in 24:59.

Listen to DtB's excluisive intereview with Gleason below. Gleason, you'll remember, was seriously injured in a collision with a vehicle while on a training run in the winter of 2007.

In team competition, St. Olaf finished 15th with 424 points; St. John's was 22nd with 533.

Cortland State of New York won the men's team title with 80 points; North Central College of Illinois was runner-up with 115.

Hamilton's Peter Kosgei won the men's race clocking 24:22.

Official results are HERE.

Photo by Charlie Mahler.

Reich Picks D3 Over Rhodes Scholarship

While we're waiting for action to commence at the NCAA Division III Championships here in Hanover, Indiana -- where it's cloudy and 24 degrees -- we wanted to make sure you saw the story Amby Burfoot wrote for Runner's World Online yesterday.

Burfoot, HERE, reported on Grinnell College senior and Mahtomedi High School alum Henry Reich's decision to eschew a Rhodes Scholarship interview in Minneapolis today in order to run with his teammates at the D3 meet.

Enjoy the story, then check back around 10:30 CST (or thereabouts) for news from the Division III Championships.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Follow NCAA Cross Country with DtB

Down the Backstretch is the place to be all "weekend" for coverage of the NCAA Cross Country Championships in Division I, II, and III.

DtB will be on-hand Saturday in Hanover, Indiana where Minnesota's top small college teams and athletes will compete in the Division III Championships. We'll post news, results and hopefully some photos and audio from the race course.

We'll also post highlights and results from the Division II meet in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania on Saturday where the Minnesota State Mankato men and University of Minnesota - Duluth women will toe the line. (Truth in advertising, we won't actually be there, ourselves.)

On Monday, we will be on site in Terre Haute, Indiana for the Division I Championships. We'll have reports on-line as soon as each race is completed and, as the day goes on, we'll add stories, quotes, photos, and audio.

So, stay tuned to Down the Backstretch for the latest NCAA news for Minnesota cross country fans!

Minnesota's Wilson, Mead Honored Again

Gary Wilson and Hassan Mead are two-for-two.

The Gopher women's coach, Wilson, and the star Gopher runner, Mead, were named Midwest Region Women's Coach of the Year and Midwest Region Runner of the Year by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.

The two earned matching honors from the Big Ten two weeks ago.

Wilson's women's team defended its Midwest Region title last weekend. His team is ranked #6 in country heading into Monday's NCAA Division I Championships.

Mead, who won the Midwest Region men's title, led a 1-2 finish for the Gophers there. Teammate Chris Rombough finished second in the meet. The Gopher men are ranked #12.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

High School Report: NXN and Footlocker

In all the action and hoopla surrounding the NCAA Championships -- D2 and D3 will be contested on Saturday, D1 on Monday -- we've been remiss with news about the state's top high school athletes who are now competing in the "post-post-season" phase of the 2008 campaign -- Nike Cross Nationals and the Footlocker Cross Country Championships.

Here's the latest, then, on the preps ...

-- Minnesota will be represented by at least two teams at the Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Oregon on December 6. Wayzata, avenging one its only defeats of 2008, topped Bismarck, North Dakota 62-65 to win the NXN Heartland Region boys championship. Bismarck won the Griak Invitational earlier in the season with 78 points; Wayzata finished 3rd at Griak with 155.

-- Wayzata boys' coach Bill Miles was named the Eastbay Coach of the Week prior to the Heartland meet. There's a nice interview with the long-time Wayzata coach HERE. Miles' Trojans were ranked #18 in the Harrier Super-25 poll prior to Heartland.

-- Eden Prairie won the Heartland girls' title 45-96 over Sioux Falls Roosevelt, and is the other Minnesota team sure to be on the line Portland. The 2008 Class AA champs placed three runners in the top-10, led by Class AA individual titlist Cassie Opitz who finished 5th overall.

The Eden Prairie boys could join the girls at NXN, too. The Eagles finished 4th at Heartland and are still eligible for one of four at-large berths to the Portland meet.

-- Minnesota will also send a passel of individuals to the NXN. The top five regional finishers not on a qualifying team earned trips to Portland. Grand Rapids' Jacub Zivec won the Heartland boys' individual title, pulling away from defending champ Joash Osoro of Bismarck in the final 100 meters of the 5K race to win in 15:24. Zivec, a Czech exchange student, was relegated to JV competition during the MSHSL season.

Also gaining national berths were Class AA champ Lukas Gemar of Moorhead, the 3rd place finisher in 15:37, Willmar's Mahad Hassan, 4th in 15:404, and Alexandria's Drew Paradis, 6th in 15:45. Jamie Piepenburg, also of Alexandria, who finished 3rd in the 5K girls' race in 18:08, is the state's lone female individual qualifier.

-- While regional competition for NXN continues elsewhere through the next two weekends -- you can keep track of all the action HERE -- many Minnesota preps are now turning their attention to next Saturday's Footlocker Midwest Regional in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Grand Rapids' Zivec and Class AA girls' runner-up Claire Guidinger of Winona are among the state's early entrants for the meet, found HERE.

The Footlocker Finals take place in San Diego, California on December 13.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Opitz, Gemar Named Athletes of the Month

Cassie Opitz and Lukas Gemar have been named USATF Minnesota's Athletes of the Month for November 2008, the organization announced yesterday.

Opitz, a senior at Eden Prairie High School, was honored for winning the Minnesota State High School League Class AA Girls Cross Country title on November 1 in Northfield Minnesota. Opitz, the Class AA 3200 meter champion in track last spring, won her cross country title with a time of 14 minutes, 24 seconds on the 4K St. Olaf College course.

Gemar, a sophomore from Moorhead High School, was recognized for his surprise win in the MSHSL Class AA Boys race. Gemar was ranked #7 entering the race but topped the field with a 15:32 clocking over the 5K course.

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.

Gopher Teams Rise in Final D1 Rankings

On the merits of two strong runs at the NCAA Midwest Regional, the University of Minnesota cross country teams have risen in the final U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association polls released yesterday.

The Golden Gopher women are now ranked #6 in Division I. The Gopher men are ranked as #12. The Gopher squad will compete at the NCAA Division I Championships on Monday in Terre Haute, Indiana.

The Gopher women were ranked #7 prior to the regional meet; the Gopher men were ranked #14.

Last weekend, the Gopher women defended their Midwest Region title with 57 points. Megan Duwell led the squad with a 4th place individual finish. The Gopher men, behind Hassan Mead and Chris Rombough who finished 1-2 in the individual race, placed an automatic-qualifying 2nd behind #2-ranked Oklahoma State.

Full women's rankings are HERE.

Full men's rankings are HERE.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Surprising Johnnies Enter D3 Poll at #21

The St. John's University men's cross country team, the surprise automatic qualifiers from the NCAA Division III Central Regional where they finished runner-up to Nebraska Wesleyan 130-139, are ranked #21 in the final US Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association poll released Monday.

The Johnnies, who finished just 5th at the MIAC Championships two weeks before, make their first appearance in the national top-35 this season.

MIAC Champion St. Olaf, third at the Central Region with 148 points and an at-large qualifier to the NCAA Division III Championships in Hanover, Indiana on Saturday, is ranked #25 in the final poll.

Full D3 men's rankings are HERE.

Inside the Numbers ... St. John's, which scored 116 points at the MIAC Championship on November 1, scored 84 points against MIAC competition at the Central Region. Four of the team's five scorers moved up in the MIAC pack -- by an average of 8.5 places -- while only one lost ground, and then only a single MIAC place.

St. Olaf actually outscored the Johnnies by a point in the MIAC-only version of the meet, tallying 83 points. At the actual MIAC meet, the Oles scored 75 points. The Ole top-5 was also a half-second faster than the Johnnie scorers at regions -- 2:12:21.8 to 2:22.3.

Central Region men's results are found HERE.

MIAC men's results can be found HERE.

Tommie Women #13 ... In women's rankings, St. Thomas, an at-large qualifier to nationals after a 3rd place finish in the Central Region, tops Minnesota squads with a #13 ranking. Fellow at-large qualifiers Bethel and Carleton, 4th and 5th at regions, are ranked #22 and #27.

The Tommies, who won the MIAC meet by 2 points over Bethel, with Carleton just another three points behind, scored 117 points at regions. Bethel tallied 165; Carleton scored 170.

Central Region women's results are found HERE.

MIAC women's results can be found HERE.

Full D3 women's rankings are HERE.

Monday, November 17, 2008

NCAA-Bound Gophers Run Strongly at Regions

The University of Minnesota cross country teams earned national meet berths Saturday and appear poised for strong finishes at the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships held a week from today in Terre Haute, Indiana.

The #7-ranked Gopher women defended their Midwest Region title, beating #14 Illinois 57-64. #29 Nebraska was 3rd with 124; #20 Iowa was 4th with 126.

The Gophers and the Illini earned automatic berths into the NCAA Championships; the Conrnhuskers and Hawkeyes will compete at nationals as at-large picks.

The Gopher men put together the best race of their season so far finishing second to #2-ranked Oklahoma State 42-51. 3rd place Tulsa and 4th placers Iowa State earned at-large selection to nationals via selection by the NCAA committee.

Women ... "We ran a great team race today,” Gopher women's coach Gary Wilson said in a media release. “We went in with the plan to run an aggressive race from the start and our pack did a terrific job is sticking together."

The aggressive racing landed six Gopher women in the race's top-20. Junior Megan Duwell, the Gophers’ #1 runner all season, finished 4th in 20:45. Senior Gabriele Anderson was 12th in 21:24, junior Amy Laskowske was 13th in 21:26, junior Mallory Van Ness was 14th in 21:26, graduate student Felicitas Mensing finished 18th in 21:29, and junior Heather Dorniden was 19th in 21:31.

Junior all-American Jamie Cheever finished 26th in 21:42.

The #7 Gophers, who defended both their Big Ten and Central Region titles from a year ago, will head to NCAAs seeking the top-10 national finish that eluded them last year. Ranked #5 entering NCAAs in 2007, the Gophers finished a disappointed 12th.

Men ... A 1-2 finish by Gopher all-Americans Hassan Mead and Chris Rombough powered the team's runner-up finish. Mead, a sophomore, won the Midwest Regional in 31:15; Rombough, a senior, was second in 31:18.

“We knew going in that Hassan and Chris could compete at the front of the pack,” Golden Gopher coach Steve Plasencia said. “What we needed was for our other guys to push forward and they certainly came through for us today."

Sophomore Ben Blankenship, showing that a young miler can succeed at the 10K distance, was the Gophers #3-man with an 11th-place, 31:28 run, junior Matt Barrett was 18th in 31:40, and sophomore Mike Torchia was 19th in 31:41.

"Ben (Blankenship) ran with great confidence today and was a key contributor," Plasencia said. "We have conditioned ourselves to be successful at the longer 10K distance run in the NCAAs."

Mike McFarland, 23rd in 31:56 and Ben Puhl, 39th in 32:19, rounded out the Gopher finishers.

The Gopher men, who were ranked #14 ahead of the Midwest Regional, no doubt hope to repeat the success of last year's NCAA meet when the team finished 8th -- the best performance by the Gophers at nationals since 1969.

Find Midwest Regional results HERE.

Find complete details on the NCAA Championship field HERE.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Short-Cut: Results' Links for November 14-15

Below you'll find our patented (okay, not really) links to all the important Minnesota results from a busy weekend of cross country racing.

NXN Heartland ... We previewed the D1 and D3 meets earlier today (see below), so here we'll touch on the Minnesota prospects at tomorrow's Nike Cross Nationals Heartland Region to be held in Sioux Fall, South Dakota. Two teams and five individuals will qualify for NXN National Finals December 6 in Portland, Oregon.

The folks at Dyestat have a nice preview page for the meet HERE.

Minnesota team favorites include Class AA boys and girls' champions Wayzata and Eden Prairie, respectively, both of whom are ranked #2 in the Heartland. Also with a chance to place high are the #3-ranked Eden Prairie boys, the Class AA runners-up, and #9 Edina boys, the unlucky 3rd place team in Section 6AA.

In girls' competition, #4-ranked Lakeville North, the Class AA runner-up and the only other Heartland-ranked team from the State, isn't entered in the meet.

Individually, Class AA boys' champ Lukas Gemar and Grand Rapids exchange student Jakub Zevic -- who wasn't allowed to compete in varsity competition by the MSHSL -- lead the Minnesota charge in the boys' race. Class AA girls' champ Cassie Opitz and runner-up Claire Guidinger should pace the North Star State girls.

Find results from Heartland NXN and lots more below ...

Saturday's Minnesota Action:
NCAA Division I Midwest Regional Results: Women * Men
Going to Nationals: Gopher women win, Gopher men 2nd, Mead, Rombough place 1-2!

NCAA Division III Central Regional Results: Men * Women
Johnnies Qualify: Unsung St. John's the lone Minnesota auto-qualifier ... St. Olaf men, St. Thomas, Bethel, Carleton women await at-large selections.

At-Large Qualifiers: St. Olaf men; St. Thomas, Bethel, & Carleton women. Full details HERE.

NXN Heartand Results: Boys * Girls
Three Minn. Winners: Wayzata boys, Eden Prairie girls, Jacub Zivec all win!

Saturday's Other Qualifying Action:
NCAA Division I Regional Results: HERE
NCAA Division III Regional Results: HERE
NXN Regional Results: HERE

Like the MIAC Meet ... Only Even Deeper

Depth has been the theme among Minnesota's top Division III cross country teams this year.

At the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championships two weeks ago, the top-three women's teams were separated by a scant five points. The top-four men's teams all bunched within 21 points of one-another.

As Minnesota's top D3 schools motor down to Grinnell, Iowa for Saturday's NCAA Division III Central Regional meet, they can expect more -- and more -- of the same.

Adding strong Iowa squads and perennial contenders Nebraska Wesleyan to the competitive mix only makes the depth, um, deeper. Close battles are likely not only for the Central Region's titles, but also for its two automatic and up to five total national meet qualifying spots. Last year the region sent a full complement of five men's and five women's teams to nationals.

The women of #3-ranked Wartburg College of Iowa appear the sole "prohibitive favorites" in the meet. Behind Wartburg, however, # 12 St. Thomas, the MIAC champs, #13 Bethel, MIAC runners-up by 2 points, #17 Luther, #21 Nebraska Wesleyan, and #24 Carleton, 3rd at MIAC, are tightly clustered.

With a maximum of five berths for NCAA Division III National Championships on offer, at least one strong team is going to get left behind.

In the men's race, #19. St. Olaf, the MIAC champs, head a tight pack of contenders. Nebraska Wesleyan is ranked #24, Grinnell College of Iowa is ranked #28, while Hamline, which finished just 12 points behind the Oles at MIAC, is ranked #32.

St. Thomas, 3rd at MIAC, and Bethel, 4th there, are un-ranked nationally, but they are tabbed as the #5 and #6 teams in the region, and, along with strong-finishing Luther College of Iowa, expect to put themselves in the mix for national meet berths.

Find full D3 Central Regional rankings HERE.

Find full D3 national rankings HERE.

The D3 cross country handbook is HERE, see page 10 for qualifying rules.

Gopher Teams Expecting National Berths

After all is said and done this weekend, the Golden Gopher cross country teams expect to hold berths for the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships.

Both Minnesota teams compete tomorrow at the NCAA Midwest Regional in Stillwater, Oklahoma where two automatic berths to the national championships in Terre Haute, Indiana are up for grabs.

The Gopher women are the defending Midwest Regional champions; the Gopher men were runners-up at the meet last year. If either of the Gopher teams finish outside the top-2 on Saturday, the NCAA offers 13 at-large berths to NCAAs, selected by committee and announced on Monday.

Gopher Women ... The Gopher women appear strong favorites to defend their Midwest Regional title and advance automatically to NCAAs. The #7-ranked Gophers are the top-ranked team in the field which also includes #14 Illinois, #20 Iowa, and #29 Nebraska.

Should the Gophers finish worse than the runners-up at the meet, head coach Gary Wilson is still confident the strength of his team's performances a the Griak Invitational, Pre-Nationals, and Big Ten Championships will earn the team a nationals berth.

Read the extensive media release on the Gopher women HERE.

Gopher Men ... Winning the region looks like a tall order for the Gopher men. #2-ranked Oklahoma State, running on its home course, is the prohibitive favorite. The Gophers appear to be part of a three-way battle for the region's second automatic qualifying spot. Minnesota is ranked #14, Tulsa is #15, and Iowa State sits at #21.

Gopher head coach Steve Plasencia calls this year's Midwest Region field the strongest ever.

“In addition to the two teams that get those automatic berths, I expect our Region will also have a couple teams earn those at-large spots into the NCAA field,” he said in a Gopher media release.

Read the men's media release HERE.

Find additional info on the Midwest Regional HERE.

For details on at-large qualifying procedures, check out the NCAA D1 handbook (page 11), HERE.

996, 997, 998, 999 ... 1000!

As we head into a busy weekend of cross country -- NCAA Division I, NCAA Divsion III, and high school athletes aiming for Nike Cross Nationals all face regional competition -- Down the Backstretch is proud to celebrate a little milestone.

With our next story, we'll have tallied our 1000th post on the web-site!

We've been in existence just shy of two years now, and it has been our pleasure to bring you the latest news and information from the Minnesota running, track and field, and cross country scene.

Thanks for joining us!

And, see you in another 1000 posts ...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mankato #10, UMD #11 in Final D2 Polls

National meet qualifiers Minnesota State Mankato and the University of Minnesota - Duluth rose in the final NCAA Division II cross country polls.

The Mankato men, who finished 3rd in D2's Central Region, are now ranked #10 in the country, up from #13 last week. The UMD women, 4th at the region meet, are now ranked #11, up from #18.

Both squads compete next weekend at the NCAA Division II Championships in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania.

Find full men's and women's D2 rankings HERE.

TCM Head Seeks USA Track & Field Post

Virginia Brophy Achman, the executive director of Twin Cities Marathon, Inc. is seeking the top leadership post in American women's distance running.

Brophy Achman (pictured) has announced her candidacy for the Chair of the Women's Long Distance Running Committee of USA Track and Field. The Running USA vice-president hopes to replace current Women's LDR Chair Elizabeth Phillips who is stepping down at the end of 2008 after six years in the position.

Brophy Achman will stand for election to the post at the USA Track and Field Annual Meeting in Reno, Nevada from December 3 - 7.

"Women’s distance running is experiencing a tremendous era of growth," Brophy Achman said in her campaign biography. "Momentum for the sport continues, as developing runners emerge and public and media interest grows. Effective leadership fosters this growth; all the while, telling the story of running to the greater community."

Brophy Achman, who was TCM's Operations and Finance Manager from 2000-2004 and who was named Executive Director in 2004, secured the five-year title sponsorship deal between TCM and the Medtronic Corporation.

TCM under Brophy Achman has had regular collaboration with USA Track and Field. The Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon and the Medtronic TC-10 Mile has hosted USA Championships nine times since 2002. TCM has been the host of the USA Master Marathon Championships for the past 18 years.

Brophy Achman has served as the vice-chair of the Women's LDR Committee since 2004.

"With eight years of professional running industry experience, I lead with the strong belief that there is great untapped potential in our sport," Brophy Achman said in her biography. "As an industry, running affords both the professional and amateur athlete the chance to compete in the same event and share their accomplishments, something unique to our sport. It embraces young and old, individual and team competition. I have watched running positively impact people’s lives and begin to foster healthy habits in children and families."

"As leaders, I believe it is our job to embrace these opportunities to further develop our future professional athletes, while offering positive associations with fitness," she continued. "I understand the business side of the sport and the need to collaborate with partners for financial support and to create greater visibility of the sport. As Chair of USATF Women’s LDR, I will lead with passion, insight, ingenuity and perseverance."

Photo courtesy of Twin Cities Marathon.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

New Cross Country Photo Galleries Posted

USATF Minnesota recently added two cross country photo galleries to their site.

Long-time contributor Dennis Hahn provided a huge set of images from the MSHSL State Meet, HERE.

Pete Miller added photos from last weekend's USATF Minnesota Open and Masters Championships, HERE.

Moses Heppner photo by Dennis Hahn.

Adam Steele Trading His Spikes for a Badge

A while back, DtB heard through the grapevine that Adam Steele. the 2003 NCAA 400m champion and a member of the gold medal -winning USA 4 x 400 meter relay team at the IAAF World Track and Field Championships in 2003, had hung up his spikes. The Eden Prairie High School and University of Minnesota alum, who has trained with the Eugene-based Oregon Track Club Elite program for the last two years, had endured more than his share of injuries and frustration in his transition to life as an 800 meter runner.

We finally tracked down Steele (pictured), who is busy these days with his new career training to become a member of the Eugene Police Department. Here's what he had to say about his old and new careers ...

DtB: We understand you've decided to retire from competitive running. What all went into the decision?

Steele: It was a tough decision but one that made when I got out of college. I knew I wanted run until 2008 and was fortunate to compete for a number of years after my collegiate career ended. I knew during the summer of 2008 I would reevaluate my situation and make a new decision on what direction I wanted to the next step to be. The last couple of years I dealt with over-use injuries and decided my body and mind were not willing to put up with more injuries. At that point I started looking into other career options. The two options that interested me most were, law enforcement and coaching at the collegiate level.

DtB: How difficult was the decision for you? Was it hard to make the final decision? Have you doubted it since making it?

Steele: As I stated earlier it was a plan in progress. The hard part was deciding what career path I should take after my career. Did I want to stay in Oregon or come home to Minnesota? Did I want to stay in the sport coaching or choose a different career path outside of athletics? Although I miss running over the last 6 months I am constantly reminded I made the right decision to retire from running. I still wake up with pain in my Achilles on a weekly basis. Certain activities cause more pain than others, which I am slowly learning what those activities are. Sometimes it is as simple as running hills or a pick up game of dodge ball. For the general health of my own body I know that I made the best decision for my general health in the future. I am glad that I am still in Oregon, I will have many opportunities to see many of my friends in the sport of track and field as there are many major meets coming to the area in the next 4 years.

DtB: What are you doing now?

Steele: Prior to retiring from my running career I had made plans to ensure that I had a career lined up so I could transition smoothly. After thinking long and hard about which career path I would take after college I decided law enforcement was my what I wanted to do. About a month after the Olympic trials I was hired on with the Eugene Police Department. It should be noted that the hiring process began in October of 2007 almost 10 months worth of physical test, written exams, background investigations and interviews. Currently I am at the Police Academy with a graduation date planed for December.

DtB: What aspects of post-collegiate, professional track do you think the average fan might not understand.

Steele: I believe the hardest part for the general fan to understand is the reason I chose to keep running. No one can understand why people chase personal dreams or aspire to reach the highest goals. Time and time again I would hear the same question, Why are you still training? The most basic answer that most people understand is, it is for me I want to know how far I could take my own body and could I prove the people that didn’t believe in me wrong. The last thing I wanted to say to my kids or grandchildren is, I could have been this good or I could have done this. For the rest of my life I can always say, I am a National Champion, a World Champion and I took a shot at making the Olympic team. I know exactly what I did and what I aspired to do and I will never regret chasing my dreams and finding out the exact answer. Too many people are caught up in the dream story and forget that it is okay to push your limits and see how far a person can go. Far too many people quit early (the easy route in my mind) and criticize from afar.

DtB: If there's one thing you could do over since starting your post-collegiate career, what would that be?

Steele: I don’t think that I would change much. There are times that I wish I would have stayed in the 400m (especially after watching the rounds at the 2008 trials) and there are times that I wish I would have had more than 2 years to try and learn the 800m. In the end I tried something that so many people talk about and don’t actually do. I consider myself a 400m runner and had better than average success at the 800m. I feel as though I had more in the tank in the 800m but I didn’t have enough experience to figure out why I would get hurt in the last phase of training.

DtB: Looking back on all you accomplished in high school, college, and beyond, what are some of the things you're most proud of?

Steele: I feel very fortunate to have great memories from all levels of competition; high school, college and professionally. I feel as though I had some of the greatest coaches at all the levels, met a lot of great teammates and saw a lot of the country and the world that I would have never dreamed of seeing if it weren’t for my running career. After getting outside of my “bubble” of working with and being around elite athletes I am starting to realize and cherish some of the accomplishments I had on the track. While I was competing I was just enjoying the ride and not thinking that I was doing anything different or special then the next person. Everyone else was doing something that I wanted to do so we were all equal.

DtB: What advice would you offer to a talented high school 400/800 meter runner hoping to do well in college and beyond?

Steele: If I were a HS 400/800m runner today I would say train with the 800m guys. The 400m at that level is more of a strength event in the state of MN. By training with the distance runners you will be strong enough to close hard in the last half of the race. The athlete will see much more than short-term benefits. Training with the distance runners and running cross country will prepare/build that work capacity needed for the long college season, training and competition. As you get into your first year of college you can decide the better event for you 400m or 800m. This will depend on the athlete’s speed and strength. That is when the coach and athlete can make a joint decision on the best event for success in the future.

Find photos, vidoe, and statistics from Steele's racing career HERE.

Photo courtesy of USA Track and Field.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Monday Cross Country Round-Up

Let's start the week off by clearing the desk of all the accumulated cross country news:

Mankato Advances ... The #13-ranked Minnesota State - Mankato men's squad finished a nationals-qualifying 3rd at the NCAA Division II Central Region meet in Kearney, Nebraska on Saturday.

Junior James Krajsa, who ran the 10,000m course in 31:32.70, led the team with a 9th-pace finish. Sophomore Denise Mokaya was 20th in 32.29.06. Also scoring for the Mavericks were freshman Dana Schmidt, 22nd at 32:36.01, senior Chris Janiszeski, 23rd at 32:40.36, and senior Jesse Merkel, 34th at 33:07.61.

Mankato was the only Minnesota men's squad to advance.

Full men's results are HERE.

UMD Qualifies ... The #14-ranked Univeristy of Minnesota - Duluth women earned a trip to the NCAA Division II National Championship in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania with a 4th-place finish at the Central Regional.

Freshman Morgan Place, the winner of six of her seven races as a collegian, was the top Bulldog, running the 6K course in a20:28.6 for 4th-place overall. Senior Liz Palkie, an individual qualifier for nationals one year ago, was five spots back in 21:10.2, while the sophomore trio of Bridget Hines, 24th in 22:00, Whitney Hines, 42nd place in 22:26.5, and Rachael Stack, 50th in 22:32. 7, rounded out the UMD scoring.

Full women's results are HERE.

Collegeville Men Win XC Circuit ... The Collegeville Track Club won the 2008 USA Tack and Field - Minnesota Cross Country Circuit with a narrow 25-32 win at Saturday's USATF-Minnesota Cross Country Championships in Apple Valley.

The Collegevillians, who won the two opening event of the six-race series, suffered three-straight defeats to rivals Run N Fun in the races leading up to Saturday's championship. RNF led the standings by a single point when starting gun fired for the double-point-value championship race.

The 1-2-6-7-9 finish of Collegeville's Chris Erichsen, Peder Arneson, Aaron Beaber, John Maresh, and Tom Myers tipped the 3-4-5-8-12 finish of RNF's Jason Finch, Ed Whetham, Kelly Mortenson, Patrick Parish, and Paul Kriegler and earned Collegeville the season-long title.

The Run N Fun women handily won the USATF-Mn championship 18-63 over Collegeville and easily won the Cross Country Circuit title.

Full results of the meet, which also served as Minnesota's Junior Olympic Championships, are HERE.

MIAC Honors Its Best ... Last week the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference named it's top coaches and athletes. Bethel swept the women's awards with two-time MIAC champ Marie Borner earning Athlete of the Year honors and coach Jim Timp earning coach of the Year accolades. Timp's Royals finished runner-up to St. Thomas at the meet.

Find all the MIAC women's award-winners HERE.

St. Olaf earned both of the men's awards. MIAC champ Duboul Ruon was named Athlete of the Year, while first-year Ole coach Phil Lundin earned Coach of the Year honors. The St. Olaf men won the MIAC team title.

Find the MIAC men's award-winners HERE.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Mankato, UMD Favorites for D2 Berths

The #13-ranked Minnesota State - Mankato men and the #14 University of Minnesota - Duluth women appear to have an inside track for qualifying spots at the NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania on November 22.

The two squads are the top-ranked local men's and women's teams competing at Saturday's NCAA Division II Central Region Championships in Kearney, Nebraska.

Six men's teams and five women's teams will qualify from the meet. The Mankato men are the #3-ranked men's team in the region. UMD is the #4 women's squad. Mankato's women's team is ranked #7 in the region; St. Cloud State's men are ranked #9.

Full Central Region rankings can be found HERE.

The Mankato men finished 3rd at the region meet last fall and placed 5th at D2 nationals. UMD's women were 8th in the region in 2007.

The Central Region of Division II sends more teams to the national meet than any of D2's eight regions. In Division II, national meet berths are awarded to regions based on the results of a region's teams at the previous year's national meet.

Results from all the D2 regions will be posted HERE.

Update: Minnesota State - Mankato's men and the Univeristy of Minnesota - Duluth women qualified for NCAA Division II Nationals. The Mavericks finished 3rd; the Bulldogs were 4th.

Find men's results HERE and women's results HERE.

Big Ten Honors U of M's Mead, Wilson

The Big Ten honored its best yesterday.

Hassan Mead, the conference's men's individual champ at last weekends cross country championships, was named the Big Ten Athlete of the Year. Gary Wilson, the coach of the women's team champion Golden Gophers, was named the Big Ten Women's Coach of the Year.

Mead (pictured) is the second Gopher in three years to earn Athlete of the Year honors -- 2006 Big Ten champ Chris Rombough did so two years ago. Last season as the Big Ten runner-up, Mead was named the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year.

The Big Ten's Larry Watts wrote THIS nice feature on Mead called A Long Journey.

Wilson was quick to share the praise for his Coach of the Year honor:

"This is really a program of the year honor,” he said in a Gopher media release. “Because without having my assistant coaches in Sarah Hesser and Kallie Suske and various support people helping our team, none of this would be possible."

The conference honor is the third in four seasons for Wilson, he was the Big Ten Cross Country Coach of the Year last season and was named the Outdoor Track Coach of the Year in 2006, his final season as the Gopher head track and field coach.

Read the full media release about the Big Ten awards HERE.

Photo by Gene Niemi.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

McGregor Reflects on NYC Marathon

Team USA Minnesota's Katie McGregor (pictured) was kind enough to answer some of our questions about her PR 2:31:14, 10th place finish at the ING New York City Marathon.

DtB: How did the race set up and play out for you? Like you hoped?

McGregor: The race played out well overall. I thought I ran smart, but I did have a few slow miles here and there that I wish would have been faster. I started hurting with a few miles to go and couldn't keep up the tempo I needed to dip under 2:30, which was my overall goal.

DtB: What was the toughest patch for you?

McGregor: Around mile 15 or so and then 23-26 were tough. There was a bit of a headwind the entire time, but nothing horrible. I ran by myself for most of the race, which was mentally challenging.

DtB: We're you pleased with the time and place, or hoping for more?

McGregor: I was hoping for a better time. I wanted to finish at least top 10, so I was pleased with the place. I figured I could run between 2:28-2:30. And if I had a great day be closer to the top 5.

Watch the Race Again ... If you didn't catch the ING New York City Marathon live ( ... or even if you did), you can watch highlights of the race HERE, thanks to Universal Sports. Included in the highlight package is rebroadcast of the women's race in its entirety.

Goucher Named Athlete of the Week ... Duluth native Kara Goucher, who finished 3rd at NYC was named USA Track and Field's Athlete of the Week yesterday. Read the USATF media release HERE.

Photo by Victor Sailer/PhotoRun

Polls Rearranged After Conference Meets

Last weekend's conference championships in NCAA Division I and Division III rearranged the latest national and regional cross country polls.

In Division I, the Gopher women retained their #7 ranking after defending their Big Ten cross country title. The Gopher men jumped to #14 after finishing 3rd at Big Tens. The Gopher men were ranked #20 prior to Big Tens.

The Minnesota women are the #1-ranked team in the Midwest Region; the men are ranked #2 in the Midwest.

Full D1 national ranking can be found HERE.

Midwest Regional rankings are HERE.

In Division III, The University of St. Thomas women rose to #12 in national rankings after winning their third straight MIAC title. Bethel, MIAC runners-up, jumped to a tie for #13 in the rankings after being only the #28 team last week. Carleton, third in the closely fought MIAC, is ranked #24.

St. Olaf, the men's champs in the MIAC, are the #19 team in D3, moving up from #28 a week ago. MIAC men's runners-up Hamline is ranked #32.

Full D3 national ranking can be found HERE.

D1 and D3 teams will race in NCAA regional competition next weekend.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

DtB's Post-Election Archive Highlight

No matter how you feel about the results of yesterday's presidential election, we thought you'd enjoy reading THIS DtB post from from March 2007.

Win Your Own Cross Country Title!

Are you impressed with the Gopher women?

Are you interested in sharing some of the glory you witnessed as the State Meet?

Wanna feel more like Hassan Mead?

The opportunity for all of the above is on offer Saturday at Valleywood Golf Course in Apple Valley where USA Track and Field -- Minnesota will hold the state Junior Olympic, Open, and Masters Cross Country Championships.

There are lots of ways to win!

Racing begins at 9:00 a.m. with the men's 10K championship, followed by the women's 5K championship at 10:00 a.m. The Junior Olympic races will follow the Open and Master's races beginning at 10:45 a.m.

Find entry information for the Open and Masters races HERE.

Find entry information for the Junior Olympic events HERE ... and registration info HERE.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Gopher Women: How They Won Big Tens

The Golden Gopher women's cross country team shared some of the secrets to their second straight Big Ten title in a media release late Monday.

Here's how the 2008 Big Ten champs described their victory:

Head Coach Gary Wilson ... "We didn’t necessarily run our best race, but we ran a smart race. Wow we just kept rallying, in the last 1,000 meters, the last 500 meters, the last 300 meters."

"Gabe (Gabriele Anderson) was our hero catching those three Wisconsin kids."

"Our pack from our first runner to our fifth was as tight as we would have liked. But I’ll tell you one thing. When our three, four and five separated a bit from our top two, they just kept plugging away."

"I heard the team scores at the midway point and thought, oh no, this is not good. Wisconsin was out there pounding it. Michigan State went out hard. All I could think was that we needed to keep our composure. Turns out we did what needed to be done to be to come out on top."

"I’m extremely proud of this team."

Top Gopher Finisher Megan Duwell ... "I went out knowing I needed to get in good position right away. I was able to keep contact with the top group and then work off them. I tried to make a move at the end but they stayed with me. It was a good race."

"We went into the meet expecting that anything would happen. We went out there and put it all on the line. I’m excited how it turned out."

Badger-Beating Gabriele Anderson ... "The race didn’t play out like I thought it might. I wasn’t quite where I thought I could be, but I have confidence in my kick."

"Wisconsin ran really well. I’m glad I was able to make up enough ground to make a difference. You obviously don’t know at the time. I guess we really needed it."

"We knew coming in that the race would be a tight battle. I’m really happy and honored to win another Big Ten title in my senior season."

Watch Video Re-Caps ... You can watch video re-caps of the Big Ten Championshps thanks to the Big Ten Network.

Find the women's recap on THIS page.

Find the mens recap on THIS page.

Finnerty Leads T&FN All-America Team

Burnsville High School graduate Rob Finnerty leads three Minnesotans named High School All-Americans by Track and Field News magazine recently.

Finnerty, who ran a 4:01.09 mile last spring at the Midwest Distance Classic and was the fastest U.S. prep in the event this season, was named the #1-ranked all-American in the event.

Finnerty, who currently attends the University of Wisconsin, sealed his #1-ranking with his mile victory at Nike Outdoor Nationals.

T&FN noted that Finnerty is the first Minnesotan to top the U.S. high school mile list since Garry Bjorklund in 1969. Finnerty also earned a #4 ranking in the 2 mile, on the strength of his 4th place, 8:50.96 performance at NON.

Rosemount High School graduate Jordan Carlson, now a freshman at Notre Dame University, was ranked the #5 all-American in the mile. Carlson ran a season-best 4:07.18. He finished 3rd at NON.

Buffalo High School senior Zach Mellon was named the #3-ranked all-American in the 800 meters. Mellon, as a junior, ran a season-best 1:48:97 and finished runner-up at the USA Junior Championships.

Photo by Gene Niemi.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Gopher Women, Mead Win Big Ten Titles

The University of Minnesota women's cross country team defended its Big Ten title Sunday with a narrow win over Wisconsin.

The #7 Gopher edged the #16 Badgers 63-67. Michigan State, ranked #9, was 3rd with 83 points.

Megan Duwell led the Gophers with a 4th place finish in 21:29 for the 6K distance. According to reports from the event, Gabriele Anderson's 10th place finish in 21:07, as the team's #2 runner, sealed the win as the Perham native passed three Badgers in the final 300 meters of the race.

Amy Laskowske finished 14th in 21:22, Mallory Van Ness finished 17th in 21:27, Jamie Cheever was 18th in 21:31.

Find full women's results HERE.

Mead wins Individual Title ... Gopher sophomore Hassan Mead won the Big Ten men's individual title in 24:26. The Minneapolis South graduate, who was the runner-up at the meet last year, moved to the lead on the course's final hill and bettered runner-up Landon Peacock of Wisconsin by more than nine second.

Gopher senior Chris Rombough the 2006 Big Ten champ finished 3rd in 24:42.

"Winning the title feels great,” Mead said. “This was one of my goals on the season so I’m really happy I accomplished it. I ran a relaxed race. I made my move at about the 5K and went all the way."

"Hassan just continues to add to his savvy as a runner," Gopher men's coach Steve Plasencia said. "He’s able to build off his success. It’s exciting for us that Hassan is so talented and is just a sophomore. He has great days ahead of him."

Mead is the fifth Gopher to win the Big Ten men's cross country title. Along with his and Rombough's wins, Gary Bjorklund won three straight crowns from 1969 to 1971, Fred Watson won three titles from 1913-15 and Leonard "Buddy" Edelen won in 1957.

The #20-ranked Gopher men finished 3rd overall with 60 points. Wisconsin, ranked #6 in NCAA Division I won with 40 points; #9-ranked Michigan was second with 57 points.

Matt Barrett was Minnesota's #3 man in 15th place in 25:01. Mike Torchia was one place behind in 25:03. Ben Blankenship was 25th in 25:16.

"Our guys ran well today,” Plasenica said. “We did a nice job of tightening up our pack. Though we placed third as a team, points-wise we were closer to Wisconsin than we did last year when we placed second."

Find full men's results HERE.

The Gopher sports media office has THIS photo gallery from the meet.

Goucher 3rd at NYC in Debut 2:25:53;
Team USA's Lehmkuhle 8th, McGregor 10th

Kara Goucher finished 3rd at Sunday's ING New York City Marathon.

The Duluth native clocked 2:25:53 to become the highest finishing American at the New York City Marathon since 1994 and the fastest American women ever at the five-borough event.

Paula Radcliffe of Great Britain won the women's race with 2:23:56. Ludmila Petrova of Russian was 2nd in 2:25:43.

"[Radcliffe] hammered us with about 8 miles to go, and I caved," Goucher said. "My plan was to kind of do what I saw Gete [Wami] do last year, and that is to tuck behind whoever was leading and to gut it out as much as possible. I got broken with maybe 8 miles to go. Then I had to kind of recoup. I had to tell myself, it's 10k, you can do this. So I secured third place. The last two miles was a struggle. I had problems getting my fluids down and my stomach was really upset."

Goucher's performance is the fastest-ever debut marathon by an American. Goucher (pictured) was racing in the city of her birth and running on the course where her coach, Alberto Salazar, won three New York City Marathon titles.

"He just told me he believes I was built to do this," Goucher said. "He trained me the way he trained himself. He wrote me a little note today and put it in my backpack. It said 'Have faith.' He had me as prepared as possible. I knew I could handle the hills, I knew I could handle the course, I knew I could handle the pace."

Team USA Minnesota's Katie McGregor finished 10th among women in a PR 2:31:14.

Teammate Jason Lehmkuhle was 8th in the men's competition in 2:14:30.

Full results can be found HERE.

The Duluth News-Tribune has THIS story on Goucher.

The Star-Tribune has THIS one.

Photo by Victor Sailer/PhotoRun

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Class AA State Meet Photos by Gene Niemi

The Class AA boys in the early-going.

Moorhead sophomore Lukas Gemar the shock individual champion.

Robel Kebede of Minneapolis South out-kicking Willmar's Mahad Hassan for 2nd place.

Winona's Claire Guidinger (left) and Eden Prairie's Cassy Opitz battling for the Class AA individual title.

The victorious Opitz at the finish line.

Star-Tribune coverage of the State Meet can be found HERE. Their photo gallery can be found HERE.

Pioneer Press coverage and photos of the meet is HERE.

DtB photos by Gene Niemi.