For the 10th consecutive year, the Gophers will compete in the NCAA championships behind top-10 finishes from redshirt juniors Liz Berkholtz and Kaila Urick.
The Gophers were all business going into the NCAA Midwest regional meet and had one goal to fulfill: make it to the national meet.
They did that, placing second as a team behind Iowa State and earning an automatic bid to the championships.
Minnesota’s lineup included two runners who ran in the meet last year — Berkholtz and Becca Dyson — but Urick said the young and inexperienced team was excited with the way it ran, and she knew it had accomplished what it set out to do.
“I think the team did a great job today, especially because there’s only two [who] ran at this race last year. For their first time at regionals, a lot of us did a really good job. We did what we wanted to do,” Urick said.
Head coach Sarah Hopkins said the team accomplished something it should be proud of.
“Obviously, that’s been the goal all year. With such a young team, that’s a pretty hard thing to do in terms of what they’ve accomplished. They worked hard and deserved to be there. We didn’t have a perfect race, but we certainly performed really, really well,” Hopkins said.
Throughout the season, the Gophers have struggled getting off to fast starts and getting in position quickly, but Berkholtz said the team succeeded at that Friday.
“I think it was easy to get a good start. There weren’t any crazy huge hills or anything in our way the first mile, so it was nice to be able to get off the line and get into a good position,” Berkholtz said.
The Gophers’ more inexperienced runners took the opportunity to learn from a large meet like the Big Ten championships earlier this month and applied it to the race Friday.
“Just being in a big race like the Big Tens, it helped them kind of gear up and get ready for what regionals would be like. I think every one of them ran better here than they did at Big Tens,” Urick said.
Bartnik moves on as men fall short
The Gophers men won’t compete at the NCAA championships, but head coach Steve Plasencia said the team competed at a high level at its regional.
Minnesota placed fourth at the meet and got a fourth-place individual finish from redshirt junior Aaron Bartnik.
“I was proud of the way our team competed. We put ourselves in a position to get there. … I think they’re just a little sad at the fact that we know we were close. We just didn’t quite get there,” Plasencia said.
Bartnik earned a spot in the NCAA championships field as an individual. He said it was a bittersweet moment for the team after it finished the meet.
“I remember saying, ‘I’m proud of every Gopher here today, no matter the result of whether we make the national meet or not,’” Bartnik said. “We raced well, but it wasn’t quite enough to make it. It was a little bit disappointing, but I’m proud of all of us and what we accomplished.”
The meet was Minnesota’s last of the season, and for the team’s lone senior, Blayne Dulian, it was the last of his career.
“For Blayne and this being his last race, certainly we all would’ve liked to have ended at the national meet,” Plasencia said.