Sept. 2, 2011
Compete, compete, compete, is what 16th year head coach Steve Plasencia wants out of his team during the 2011 cross country season. The Golden Gophers’ are coming off another third place finish in the Big Ten Conference as well as their third straight trip as a team to the NCAA Championships (27th overall).
Coach Plasencia hopes to see his squad who is preseason ranked 27th in the country, develop into a highly experienced group and it looks like this year’s team has the pieces to put that puzzle together.
The biggest question for Gopher cross country fans is what has happened to Hassan Mead? Well the three-time All-American sat out last season due to an injury he sustained during fall training, but don’t worry fans he is back and ready to contend for a championship.
“Hassan has had a great summer of training,” Plascenia said. “He has battled through a few injuries since 2009, but came back this past spring in track and won a Big Ten title. The thing was he wasn’t even at his best then, but now I know he is ready to go.”
Looking down the rest of the lineup the Gophers’ will feature a very strong core group behind Mead which will be lead by junior Pieter Gagnon. Plascenia wants to be able to build a foundation around these two and hopes together can bring the younger ones up with them.
“Pieter really improved last season and we want to develop him into a top 10 runner in the conference,” Plascenia said. “We are hoping that he can pull the guys behind him up to his level.”
The key to the team after Mead and Gagnon is going to be the middle group and according to Plasencia the middle group of the squad will determine what kind of team this is going to be.
“We can’t have guys finish in the 195th-220nd range we need finishes in the 130th-170th range in the NCAA’s in order to meet our team goals,” Plasencia said.
Other members of the team that will be contending for spots will be Bob Nicolls, Drew Paulson, Kevin Lachowitz and Sean Olson.
Nicolls is a transfer from Oklahoma who Plasencia says will be a guy that will really add depth this year. Paulson looks to be ready to have a very solid year after redshirting last year, while
Lachowitz was the squad’s fourth man last year where he had strong races at the Big Ten’s, Pre-NCAA and NCAA Championships. Olson will be looking to finish strong in his senior campaign for the Gophers.
“All of these guys are so competitive,” Plasencia said. “The whole team is going to push each other which will only make us better. I really feel this group is going to be very solid down the line and each guy is going to be right with the next one.”
There will be five new incoming freshmen this season and this class looks to be very promising for the Gophers’ in the future. Adam Zutz, Aaron Bartnik, Christian Skaret, Alex Brend and Matt Jergenson will all look to make the transition from the high school level to the college ranks together as a strong pack.
“This freshman group is a very solid group for us and we are very excited about watching them progress,” Plasencia said.
With the Big Ten being one of the toughest conferences in the country, the Gophers will have their work cut out for them to compete for a league championship.
“The Big Ten is always very strong, you just never know who will show up,” Plasencia said. “We are always pointing at that conference meet in October.”
Minnesota’s schedule will once again be a pretty competitive one this season. The Gophers’ have two new races this fall with the Hornet Jamboree and the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational. The Hornet Jamboree will take place in Sacramento, Calf on Saturday September 9 and the Adidas Invite which will be the big test of the season for the squad to pick up some at-large bids for the NCAA’s will be on October 14.
“The Wisconsin meet is going to be huge for us to pick up at-large points,” Plasencia said. “In your region you have two automatic qualifiers which are favored to be Oklahoma and Oklahoma State; we need to be ready to go all out in this meet to get as many points as possible.”
In the preseason regional rankings Oklahoma State is first, Oklahoma is second, while the Gophers’ are third. Minnesota won’t see either school until they both meet at the NCAA Midwest Regional on November 12.
Things are set to get underway Friday September 8 with the Oz Memorial race here at Minnesota. Half the squad will compete in the Oz while some will travel out west for the Hornet Jamboree on Saturday. Mead and company will be looking to do some damage in the conference and around the country as this season looks to be an exciting year for Gopher Cross Country.
By Athletic Communications Assistant Michael Levy