With the loss of Hassan Mead to graduation, it was evident that the Gophers men’s cross country team would have to rely on a consistent group of runners and not one superstar this season. That exact model came to fruition during Saturday’s Roy Griak Invitational.
Minnesota finished with five of its runners in the top 18 of the Merrill Fischbein Men’s Gold Race — the men’s Division I race at the 27th annual Griak. The Gophers finished with 67 team points, 17 fewer than second-place Iowa State.
The win was the first Griak title for the men’s program.
“Having it happen the first time for the program’s history is definitely uplifting for everybody involved with the program,” head coach Steve Plasencia said. “It feels really good to know that we did the best that we possibly could in the field that was here today.”
John Simons paced the Gophers with a time of 25 minutes. The spread from Simons to Pieter Gagnon, who was the fifth-best finisher on the team, was only 13 seconds.
“I don’t think in my coaching history that I’ve ever had a team that’s been that tight one to five in any race that we’ve been in,” Plasencia said. “We know that that’s the way we need to run to have good success.”
Regina’s Kelly Wiebe was the fastest individual with a time of 24 minutes, 18 seconds. Because of other meets scheduled around the country, the field for this year’s Griak was thinner than usual, featuring only 143 runners and 15 teams.
Women finish third
Assistant coach Sarah Hesser said before the Griak that she would have been thrilled with second place but OK with fourth or fifth. The Gophers women split the difference and placed third.
Minnesota finished with 86 team points, four behind Weber State and two in front of Connecticut.
Iowa State ran away with the competition, literally, and won with a 35-point margin. The Cyclones’ Betsy Saina and Meaghan Nelson finished first and second, respectively, in the race.
“It was all jammed up in there, and we knew halfway through that it was going to be a three-team battle for second,” Hesser said, “and we were right in the middle of it.”
Junior Laura Docherty led the Gophers individually with a fourth-place finish. Docherty conquered the six-kilometer course in 21 minutes, 17 seconds.
“Docherty had a heck of a day,” Hesser said. “The first couple races [this year] she looked great, but this is the best I’ve ever seen her look in cross country.”
Docherty moved up two or three positions in the final two kilometers, including a late pass on a runner from Iowa during the final stretch.
“It was a lot of adrenaline because the finish line was pretty crazy,” Docherty said. “People were yelling at me to beat Iowa, so I had to do it for them.”
The Griak was the first large meet of the season for the Gophers, which meant they needed to adjust from the smaller meets they ran earlier in the season that Minnesota dominated.
“For the first three meets, we’ve dictated the race,” Hesser said. “Then all of a sudden you come into a meet like this and other people dictate when the moves are going to be made and what’s going on, and you have to respond to punches instead of being the ones throwing the punches.”
Hesser described the Griak as a midterm and said that she only noticed a few tweaks that the team needs to make to improve — nothing glaring.
“You know how midterms are in college,” Hesser said. “You can get by with an average midterm as long as you rock the final.”
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