It’s been a long, obstacle-ridden season for the Gophers men’s and women’s cross country teams, but both groups’ seasons will conclude Monday at the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind.
Minnesota is familiar with Indiana State’s course, as it has made an appearance in the national meet in 14 of the last 16 seasons. That experience should help the team Monday.
“We’ve been there so many times, so there are no surprises to anybody in regard to what the course is like,” men’s head coach Steve Plasencia said. He added that historically the course runs faster than others.
Minnesota is coming off a fourth place finish at the NCAA Midwest Regional last weekend in DeKalb, Ill., where All-American Hassan Mead captured the individual title.
Regardless of the results from last weekend, Plasencia said the national meet will be a dissimilar race.
“In the regional, a lot of people are trying to do as little as possible to advance through,” Plasencia said. “In [the national meet] with the depth of talent, it’s the race of the season for every top guy in the country.”
Mead is one of those top runners, and Monday will be the final race in his illustrious career with the Gophers.
Plasencia said he is confident that the pressure will not affect his All-American throughout the race.
“Of course we’ve talked about the fact that this is his last cross country race for Minnesota,” Plasencia said. “There’s a little bit of extra emotion in there, but I think that Hassan is an experienced enough guy to keep that all in check.”
Entering the national meet, the Gophers have faced a lot of the teams they will compete against Monday, at either the Roy Griak Invitational or the Adidas Invitational earlier in the season.
“I think it gives guys a little bit of confidence in regards to knowing that they got into that field and did a pretty good job at Wisconsin,” Plasencia said. “I’ll be anxious to see how it plays out.”
Steph Price to cap career in women’s race
The Gophers women’s cross country team has been predicated on resilience this year.
Minnesota has faced many setbacks and dealt with numerous injuries this season, but different runners have continued to step to fill the gaps.
“I had somebody say to me, ‘Just think you could have been if …,’” women’s head coach Gary Wilson said.
“I said, ‘Just think how bad we could have been if we hadn’t had resiliency.’ We wouldn’t even be at the meet.
“[Our runners] never hung their heads and that’s a testament to them and their grit.”
Rachel Drake is a perfect example of that resiliency. Drake was left off the scoring roster for the Big Ten meet, but filled in for Maggie Bollig at the regional meet and was the team’s fifth scorer.
The Gophers will enter the national meet having qualified in each of the past seven seasons, and are very familiar with the course at Indiana State.
“It’s a good test of cross country without being crazy difficult,” Wilson said. “It’s a fair test of cross country … and what always happens is the very, very best kids at cross country end up on top.”
It will be the last race in the career of Steph Price, but Wilson said he just wants her to race as she has all season.
Price finished 31st at last year’s NCAA Championships, but said she thinks she has the capability of being a top-20 finisher Monday.
Wilson said there is so much parity in this race and his team must run a smart race.
“The difference in this meet is so tiny between being an All-American and being 100th [place], it’s unbelievable,” Wilson said. “The best teams that come out of this and do well are the people get in and don’t try and horse it up front too early and stay steady … and just keep your wits about you and race.
“You can go out pretty quick if you’re stupid and so what we try to do is go in and not be stupid.”
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