The Gophers women’s cross country team extended head coach Gary Wilson’s career another week by earning a NCAA championship bid this weekend.
Minnesota finished third at the 31-team NCAA Midwest regional in Springfield, Mo., on Friday and was awarded an at-large bid to the championships a day later.
Advancing past the regional is nothing new for Minnesota, as the team has now advanced to eight consecutive NCAA championships.
The Gophers had a strong and consistent day overall, placing five runners in the top-30 of the 211-runner field.
“There’s not a lot of teams out there that can put five in the top-30 of any of the regions,” assistant coach Sarah Hesser said.
Hesser is slated to take over the program when Wilson retires this year.
Minnesota finished only one point behind second-place Oklahoma State. Iowa State ran away with the team title. The top two teams from the region automatically advanced.
“Obviously it would have been nice to have two less points and get the automatic berth, but the girls raced really well,” Hesser said. “I think it was our best team race all season in terms of the way we put it together.”
Molly Kayfes led the Gophers on Friday. She completed the six-kilometer course in 20 minutes, 47 seconds, putting her in eighth place.
Laura Docherty finished 16th, Ashlie Decker finished 20th, Maggie Bollig finished 27th and Katie Moraczewski finished 30th to round out Minnesota’s scoring team.
Hesser said Moraczewski was a “little off” because she sustained a mild concussion after falling off her bike two weeks ago, which affected her training for Friday’s race.
“Anytime you have a team with interchangeable parts, it’s awesome,” Hesser said of runners like Decker and Bollig stepping up for Moraczewski. “Because you have things happen.”
Liz Berkholtz and Rachel Drake also ran for Minnesota and finished 50th and 57th, respectively.
Minnesota will run in the NCAA championships Saturday in Louisville, Ky. The Gophers were one of four Big Ten teams to advance past the regional stage.
Men’s season ends with seventh-place finish
The Gophers men’s team knew going into Friday’s race that it would have to finish better than it was ranked to continue its season.
Minnesota’s seventh-place finish was better than the No. 8 ranking it had entering the event, but it wasn’t good enough. The Gophers didn’t receive an at-large bid Saturday, and their season is over.
“All and all, I know the guys feel the same way — we just want to come back to Minnesota and get better,” head coach Steve Plasencia said.
Derek Storkel led the Gophers on Friday with a time of 31 minutes, 14 seconds on the 10-kilometer course. Storkel finished in 36th place, five spots ahead of teammate John Simons.
Plasencia said Storkel “probably ran a little bit better than and a little bit further up than I had him.”
Andrew Larsen, Adam Zutz and Pieter Gagnon rounded out the scoring lineup for the Gophers. Plasencia said Zutz, a freshman, ran his best race of the season.
“We had a couple guys that definitely showed some improvement and started moving up the ranks a little bit,” Plasencia said.
Plasencia had thought the longer course would be an advantage for some of his runners, but he said the warmer-than-average weather was a hindrance since the Gophers had adjusted to running in colder temperatures.
Oklahoma and Oklahoma State tied for the team lead in the 29-team field.