Back in September, the Gophers women’s cross country team ran an intrasquad meet that matched the entire team against itself.
The winner of the meet was Laura Docherty, and in a sense she hasn’t looked back since.
Docherty is coming off of a ninth-place finish at the Big Ten championship — possibly the most impressive finish in her Gophers cross country career. She will lead Minnesota into the NCAA Midwest regional this Friday in Springfield, Mo.
The ninth-place finish was even more impressive considering that the St. Paul, Minn., native never finished in the top 10 in Minnesota’s high school state meet.
“I think it just shows that [coaches Gary] Wilson and [Sarah] Hesser’s program really pulls you along and works,” Docherty said.
Head coach Gary Wilson said that Docherty’s improvement exemplifies what his program is all about.
“This whole program is based on that. … Steph Price was a walk-on athlete last year, and she was sixth in the region and second the year before,” Wilson said. “We’ve had a long history of those kinds of kids developing.”
Wilson said he is confident in the condition of his team for Friday’s regional.
“I think they’re in good shape mentally and physically,” Wilson said.
Wilson said there are 18 teams that will make the national meet — “unless the world comes to an end.”
Minnesota is not one of those teams. But it is among 13 other teams that Wilson said have a good chance.
The course in Springfield will be different than the course the Gophers ran in East Lansing, Mich., for the Big Ten championships. The course at Michigan State was very flat, which will not be the case Friday.
“There’s hills and you have to think,” Wilson said. “You can’t just go and horse the thing like you did at Michigan State.”
Men look to beat predictions
The goal for the Gophers men’s team this weekend is simple — finish better than they’re supposed to.
“We don’t want to come out of this thing where we’re ranked,” head coach Steve Plasencia said of his team, which is ranked eighth in its region.
Minnesota has a lower ranking because it has stumbled in the final stretch of the season. It tied for 22nd at the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational and finished fifth at the Big Ten championships.
“For us, the region meet represents another opportunity to go out and show we’re different than what we’ve done to this point in time,” Plasencia said.
Plasencia pointed to the loss of last year’s workhorse Hassan Mead as a possible factor in the team’s struggles.
“We’re still a mid-range, upper-division team in the Big Ten,” Plasencia said. “We’re going through kind of a transitional year, and it’s going to be up to us to see what we can make of what could be our last opportunity.”
Plasencia said the team has advanced to the national meet as a team in 15 of the 17 years he’s been at Minnesota.
“Sometimes it is a hard slog,” Plasencia said. “I’ve had other years where it’s been a hard slog, and in the end those teams have still found a way to make the national meet.”
The team sizes will drop from nine at the Big Ten to seven Friday. Marcus Paulson will not run because of a stress fracture, and Bob Nicolls also will not compete. The remaining seven from the Big Ten will run for the Gophers in the regional.