The No. 12 Minnesota men’s cross country team will travel to Champaign, Ill., this weekend to compete in the Big Ten Championships.
The Gophers finished third in last year’s conference meet running without All-American Hassan Mead.
Mead sat out the entire 2010-11 season with an Achilles tendon injury paired with a collapsed lung. This year, he will attempt to take back the Big Ten title he never officially lost.
The last two times Mead ran in the conference meet — 2008 and 2009 — he won the Big Ten individual title.
“I think some people would consider him the favorite … but there’s going to be guys that are ready to go,” men’s head coach Steve Plasencia said. “He’s going to have to go out there and earn whatever spot he gets.”
While Mead’s presence should alleviate some of the pressure from other runners on the team, Pieter Gagnon and Andrew Larsen have their own Big Ten successes to draw on.
Gagnon was the Gophers’ third finisher at the 2010 meet and Larsen was the fifth.
“Both Gagnon and Larsen have had promising experience at the Big Ten,” Plasencia said. “They should have confidence going into the race and have a feel of what it looks like.”
Minnesota’s experience is a tool it will use in attempt to dethrone No. 2 Wisconsin.
The Badgers have won 12 consecutive Big Ten team titles and will again be the favorite heading into the weekend.
Plasencia said he doesn’t want his team to dwell on Wisconsin’s decade of dominance within the sport, though.
“The Big Ten meet is all about competing with opponents,” Plasencia said. “If you see a guy with a green jersey ahead of you, you have to have him. If you see a guy with a red jersey, you have to have him. That’s what makes this meet so fun.”
Paul Hilsen, Travis Burkstrand Bob Nicolls, Steve Sulkin, Erik Truedson and Marcus Paulson will join Mead, Gagnon and Larsen as the nine runners competing in Champaign.
Women seek Big Ten success
When the Gophers women’s cross country team lines up at the start of the Big Ten Championships this weekend in Champaign, Ill., they will know they must start faster.
At the Adidas Invitational two weeks ago, the team started slowly in the first kilometer of the flat course and could not work its way back up to the front of the pack, according to women’s head coach Gary Wilson.
That won’t be the case this weekend, Wilson said.
“They’re going to get out a little quicker this weekend, but I told them, ‘You put yourself in a position to dog the other teams every step of the way,’” Wilson said.
“I said, ‘I don’t want you way up in leading because nobody cares what you do at the first kilometer mark, but I don’t want you chasing through the crowd.’ It’s their time and the only thing they can do is put themselves in a position to close well. We can’t play big time catch-up in this race.”
All-American Steph Price finished second at last year’s Big Ten meet and is one of the favorites entering this weekend.
Her goal the entire season was to be in good shape, but not in great shape early, as it would give her room to grow throughout the season.
Wilson said he thinks she is exactly where she needs to be entering the conference meet.
“She said she feels great and feels like she’s ready to go and she is,” Wilson said. “She’s on top of her game right now. But this is the Big Ten meet and there are a ton of All-Americans in the field.”
Amid the densely competitive field, Wilson said he still wants his team to focus on running together and finishing close to each other.
“Our goal is to pack it up, let Steph do her job, and then pack it up as a group and be committed to closing the deal,” Wilson said. “If you take care of the process, good things will happen. If you don’t take care of the process and think way ahead in a race … then you’re not concentrating on what you need to do step after step after step.”
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