Since the beginning of the cross country season, Minnesota has been focused on achieving its season goal of qualifying for the NCAA Championships.
Now that the NCAA Midwest Regional meet is here, the Gophers are a little closer to seeing the goal come to fruition.
The Midwest Regional is the second meet of the championship season in collegiate cross country and acts as a way for teams across the country to qualify for the championship meet. The top two teams from each of the nine regions automatically advance to the NCAA Championship meet. After those 18 spots are filled, 13 at-large bids for the championship are awarded to other teams based on a points system.
On the women's side, advancing to the NCAA Championship has become a tradition many runners take pride in achieving year after year. The Gophers are eyeing their third consecutive trip to the championship meet and their 14th in 15 seasons.
As of Nov. 4, the women's team is ranked third overall in the Midwest region behind Illinois and Oklahoma State, with two competitive teams in Tulsa and Missouri closely behind the Gophers at fourth and fifth respectively. Head coach Sarah Hopkins believes there is no reason her team should be counted out on Friday.
"My expectation is that we can go in and try to fight to win the Midwest, and there’s no reason we can’t," Hopkins said. "I think there’s no reason we can’t set our sights on being a top team in the Midwest, but we’ve got to get the job done."
The Gophers last competed on Nov. 3 at the Big Ten Championship meet in Columbus, Ohio, which ended in a close seventh place finish. Immediately after racing, Hopkins emphasized the importance of her team recovering physically, mentally and emotionally so they are prepared for the next task at hand.
The men's team has a little more ground to make up when they race on Friday. Led by redshirt junior Alec Basten, the Gophers are currently ranked seventh in the Midwest region after finishing eighth in the Big Ten Championship meet. In order to advance to the championship meet for the first time since 2015, Basten said earlier this season it would be important for the team to be healthy mid-November.
The men will compete first at 10 a.m. Friday morning in Indianapolis, Indiana with the women's team racing 30 minutes later in Stillwater, Oklahoma.