With the first chance at gaining points for the NCAA Championships, the men’s and women’s cross country teams traveled to Terre Haute, Ind., to compete in the Pre-National Meet.
After taking the South Dakota State Classic team title two weeks earlier, the women looked for another strong performance, and some of the biggest hurdles they had were just getting to the meet.
After having their original flight cancelled, head coach Gary Wilson’s team had to catch a later flight, causing his team to not get to the hotel until after midnight, the day of the race.
The women’s team finished sixth overall, and Wilson was proud of how his team handled the adversity.
“They just never say die. They never give up,” Wilson said. “They never complained once yesterday. I was very proud of them; they’re a great group of kids.”
Leading the way for the Gophers was Megan Duwell . Heading into the race, Wilson told Duwell he thought she could finish top-five individually, and she did. The senior finished the six-kilometer race in 20:31.5, good for third place and just more than four seconds behind first-place finisher Angela Bizarri of Illinois.
Rounding out the scoring for the women were sophomore Stephanie Price at 43rd overall, senior Elizabeth Yetzer at 53rd, freshman Kayla Wagner at 57th and junior Nikki Swenson , who finished 58th.
Wilson was especially impressed by Yetzer, who he said characterized the entire team yesterday.
“Elizabeth Yetzer was kind of that story of never staying down,” Wilson said. “She didn’t get out very well. Then she started to fade and ended up in the fifties. She kept fighting, fighting and fighting, and so I was very proud of her for that.”
On the men’s side, the Gophers finished 11th overall as a team, paced by junior Hassan Mead .
The issue that continues to plague head coach Steve Plasencia’s squad is the fifth runner.
Scoring is based on each team’s top five finishers, so having Minnesota’s fifth runner finishing 162nd does not bode well for the team’s overall chances.
“That handicaps us a little bit right now,” Plasencia said. “We’ve had some injury, we’ve had some illness, so we’re struggling at five a little bit.”
Plasencia has discussed three options to clear up the fifth runner situation. Junior Mike McFarland , sophomore Sean Olson and freshman Derek Storkel were all listed as people Plasencia will look to possibly step up and into that fifth spot.
“That’s really three places where I’m looking at,” Plasencia said. “Maybe one of the other guys may step up, but that would be the three most likely options I would look at right now.”
While the 11th place finish did little to gain any at-large points for the NCAA Championships, Plasencia thinks his team can learn from this meet as they look forward.
“In terms of coming together as a group, I think this weekend definitely got our focus and the eye on the ball a little bit,” Plasencia said. “I think that’ll help us as we move forward, I think that the task is very palpable for the guys as to what has to happen.”
The men’s team will next compete Nov. 1 at the Big Ten Championship, while the women’s team will run Oct. 24 at the Les Bolstad Golf Course in Jack’s Run.
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