This weekend a contingent of the Gophers men’s cross country team will open the season nearly 2,000 miles away from the Twin Cities.
The group will travel to northern California to compete at the Hornet Jamboree for the first time in Sacramento, Calif.
“We’ve never been there before, so it should be an interesting deal,” head coach Steve Plasencia said. “It will be a chance to measure ourselves up against schools we don’t normally run against.”
In total, nine runners will make the trek west, but six-time All-American Hassan Mead will be the name that resonates throughout the field.
Mead did not compete last season due to a collapsed lung and nagging Achilles injury. Entering the 2011 season, he is fully recovered and ready to run.
“It’s two thumbs up in terms of his summer training and where we think his current fitness is at,” Plasencia said. “We’re going to control what he does out there in Sacramento, but from everything I can see he is healthy and lean.”
Pieter Gagnon will also be looking to display his summer improvement at the Hornet Jamboree.
“Pieter has been a guy who every year seems to get a little bit better,” Plasencia said. “He was a solid third man for us last year and he will be a second man this year, I would guess. That could be proved differently, but he is a big part of our team.”
Plasencia said he hopes to learn more about how his team will compete in a race setting, as he’s only seen them in practice this year.
Team members who aren’t traveling to Sacramento will compete at the Oz Memorial at Les Bolstad Golf Course this weekend.
Travis Burkstrand, Blayne Dulian, Drew Paradis and Matt Volz will run in uniform for Minnesota at the Oz Memorial, while a majority of the freshmen class will run unattached.
“I’m excited for them to compete, but I think they are more excited because it will be their first college race,” Plasencia said of the freshmen that will be competing at the Oz.
“This is the beginning of their growth process with the team.”
Plasencia added that freshman Adam Zutz has impressed in practice, but it has not been decided whether or not he will be redshirted.
Zutz will run unattached on Friday, but has a chance to make the scoring team yet this season.
Women hope to gauge growth
After unofficially opening their season Saturday with an intrasquad meet, the women’s cross country team will again run in the Oz Memorial this Friday at Les Bolstad Golf Course.
This meet will offer more of a glimpse to the future and the depth of the team, as opposed to its top-end talent.
“We kind of know what our veterans can do, but this is one of the meets where we really look at our freshmen,” head coach Gary Wilson said. “That’s kind of what this meet is about.”
Wilson reiterated his point that the first few meets help determine who will be redshirted this season.
Steph Price and Missa Varpness will most likely headline the meet for the Gophers, but the scoring seven won’t be decided for several more weeks at the earliest.
“It appears the depth is better this year opposed to last year, but until we get to the heat of the battle we won’t know,” Wilson said.
He also said he thinks the back half of the scoring team is “going to be interchangeable parts. We’re probably 10 to 12 deep between those spots.”
This depth will be on display at the Oz Memorial this weekend.
Wilson said he wants even his top runners to be wary that the roster is in a fluid state.
“I told them just because someone is in the top seven now does not mean they will be there without some sacrifice and hard work,” Wilson said. “That’s going to be the key for our team this season.”
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