The Gophers men’s cross country team will make its first-ever trip to DeKalb, Ill., this weekend to compete in the NCAA Midwest Regional.
No. 18 Minnesota placed third at the Big Ten championships two weekends ago behind 13-time defending champion and top-ranked Wisconsin and No. 7 Indiana.
The Gophers’ level of competition will not change in this weekend at the regional meet.
“We have a couple of the toughest teams in the country there in Oklahoma State and Oklahoma,” men’s head coach Steve Plasencia said. “It will be some tough competition at the top, but regionals are always important competitions because they represent a gateway to the NCAA meet.”
Oklahoma State is No. 2 in the country and Oklahoma is ranked fifth nationally.
The top two finishing teams from each regional meet automatically qualify for the NCAA championships on Nov. 21.
With the Gophers ranking behind both Oklahoma State and Oklahoma in the Midwest Region, it will take a near-perfect race for the Gophers to unseat either of those teams.
“If you get in the top two all the questions are done,” Plasencia said. “If we’re third I have some confidence that given our résumé throughout the year that we will get selected, but if we fall below third it starts to get cloudy.”
Something that may help the Gophers in qualifying for the NCAA championships is the stretch from the standard 8-kilometer race to an extended 10-kilometer race this weekend.
“I think with a guy like Pieter Gagnon, who runs the 10K on the track — he’s completely comfortable with that distance,” Plasencia said. “Hassan Mead is a true blue distance runner, so the change is also good for him.”
Mead’s return from an injury-riddled last season — in which he missed the regional meet — should provide the Gophers with an added boost in their quest to qualify for the NCAA championships. But Plasencia said he will be looking for other runners on his team to come through, as well.
“This is the time of year when it gets exciting,” Plasencia said. “It’s a good time for people to step up.”
Women seek trip to NCAA championships
Following a disappointing fifth place finish at the Big Ten championships, the women’s cross country team will look to bounce back this weekend at the NCAA Midwest Regionals.
The Gophers have made it to the NCAA championships for six straight seasons and will look to make it seven years in a row in DeKalb, Ill., on Saturday.
Steph Price, who finished fifth at the Big Ten championships, headlines the scoring roster for the Gophers and will again look to lead the team this weekend.
Price will be joined by Molly Kayfes, Katie Moraczewski, Ashlie Decker, Cassy Opitz, Maggie Bollig and Laura Docherty on the scoring roster.
Just like in the men’s region, a top-two regional finish would guarantee a trip to the NCAA championships. Lower finishes would require an at-large bid selection.
In order to alleviate any added stress in the qualifying process, Minnesota will strive for at least a third-place finish at the regional meet, head coach Gary Wilson said.
“I think if we’re third we would go almost for sure because we have enough points against other people,” Wilson said. “Obviously we’re going to go in and run for a top-two spot, but Iowa State is the odds-on favorite — they’re the best team in our region.”
Wilson said he emphasized being further up in the pack midway through the race this weekend. His team has had a habit this year of being too far back to make up ground in the second half of races.
“We have to give ourselves a little bit better opportunity to move from 25th up to 15th — you can’t start at 40th or 50th and expect that you’re going to end up in the top 15,” Wilson said. “It just doesn’t work that way.”
Missa Varpness — who entered the season as the team’s No. 2 runner — will not compete on the scoring roster at the regional meet.
Varpness has struggled this season and finished 95th at the Big Ten championships.
She will still travel with the team and serve as an alternate over the weekend, according to Wilson.
Wilson predicted his team is capable of making the cut for the NCAA championships.
“I think if they execute the way we want them to, I think they’ll go to Nationals for the seventh year in a row,” Wilson said. “But you have to execute.”
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