In what head coach Sarah Hopkins called a “really quick turnaround,” the Gophers will race at the NCAA championships Saturday just eight days after placing second at the NCAA Midwest regional.
Hopkins has set the goal of placing in the high teens for the team.
At last year’s meet, Minnesota placed 20th in a field of 31 teams.
“Improving on last year’s performances is definitely something we want to accomplish,” redshirt junior Liz Berkholtz said.
Hopkins said the team has an extra level of motivation at the thought of beating last year’s team finish.
“I really think there’s a bit of a competitive nature in all of them. Knowing that the team last year was 20th has everybody in the back of their heads wanting to come out with a finish better than 20th,” Hopkins said.
Berkholtz and fellow redshirt junior Kaila Urick both finished with career-best 6K times last week at the NCAA Midwest regional.
“We need to just keep doing what we’re doing. We just have one more week, so we need to focus on running and get the job done,” Urick said.
The meet will consist of the 30 top teams in the nation, and Hopkins said she expects it to be exciting.
“It’s the national championship, so everybody that’s there is good, which makes it fun,” Hopkins said. “In some ways, there’s less pressure even though it’s the biggest meet of the year. If you lose to teams, they’re all good. There’s nobody there that shouldn’t be there.”
The race will consist of a large number of runners, similar to the Wisconsin adidas Invitational the team participated in last month.
Hopkins said the Gophers just need to run the race they’re capable of running.
“At [the national meet], people try to be a hero, people try to do things they’re not capable of, and you catch a lot of people at the end,” Hopkins said.
The men’s team’s lone survivor
The Gophers’ season came to an end Friday as they failed to qualify for nationals.
Though they didn’t qualify as a team, redshirt junior Aaron Bartnik solidified a spot on the national roster as an individual with his fourth-place finish.
Bartnik said he expects the meet to be challenging.
“I’m extremely excited for the level of competition that will be there, just to be able to see where I stack up,” Bartnik said. “I don’t know what I’m capable of yet as an athlete. I’m excited to see what I can do against the best field in the nation.”
Bartnik said his teammates were very supportive of his individual effort.
“I’m excited that Aaron is going to the national meet,” head coach Steve Plasencia said. ”The only sad news is that we won’t have a full team there.”