2008 Golden Gopher Men's Cross Country Season Preview
It’s always interesting how delicate that thin line can be between success and struggle in sport. Minnesota enjoyed its finest NCAA finish in 38 years when the Golden Gophers raced to an eighth-place showing in 2007. Just weeks prior, due to injury, Minnesota was piecing together a lineup in hopes of just remaining competitive.
The pieces all came together at the right time. All-American Chris Rombough ran with purpose and took an emerging talent, rookie Hassan Mead, under his wing. The Gophers’ cemented a 1-2 punch that collected top honors at the Big Ten, Midwest Region and NCAA Championships. Key performance could be found down the lineup, whether it be from the now-graduated seniors Forrest Tahdooahnippah or Justin Grunewald, or redshirt freshman Mike McFarland.
The trials, and ultimately the successes, of the 2007 squad will be nothing but beneficial for this season’s group of Gopher harriers. The bar has been raised. Expectations are high for big things from the Gophers in 2008.
“We expect to be a team that can compete strongly on the conference, regional and national level,” said head coach Steve Plasencia, entering his 13th season at the helm of the Minnesota program. “We want to build on, not rest on, our accomplishments from last season.”
Rombough and Mead will once again anchor the Minnesota lineup this fall.
Rombough looks to become the very first three-time All-American in program history. The 2006 Big Ten champion and the Conference’s fourth-place finisher a year ago, Rombough has built his collegiate resume into one of the finest in school history. His young running partner, Mead, has made Rombough an even better competitor.
Mead gathered All-America honors as well in 2007, becoming the first Gopher rookie to collect national acclaim. Mead earned the Big Ten Freshman of the Year honor after running to a second-place finish, just being edged at the finish line. He gathered more accolades during his rookie track season in the spring, wining the Big Ten outdoor 5,000-meter run title, and earning trips to the NCAA Championships, where as a true freshman he placed an impressive sixth, and the U.S. Olympic Trials in the event.
“Chris and Hassan are two very strong teammates,” said Plasencia. “They love to place high and win individually, but support each other and their teammates to an even greater degree. It’s a blessing for this team to have two such talented, yet unselfish leaders.”
McFarland ran his best races of his redshirt freshman season at the longer 10-kilometer distances of the NCAA meets, where he clocked the team’s number-five finish in both the regional and national meet. He was one of five Gophers to earn All-NCAA Midwest Region honors a year ago.
The Gophers look forward to the return on a pair of injured runners from 2007, sophomores Mike Torchia and Matt Barrett. Both were key contributors heavily missed last season and will be counted on for consistent performances this season.
Stillwater, Minn., native, Ben Blankenship has transferred back to the U. after a year at Mississippi State and should be an immediate contributor to the Gophers in his sophomore season this fall. Blankenship earned All-NCAA South Region honors and a spot on the Southeastern Conference’s All-Freshman team in 2007.
Experienced letterwinners Ben Puhl and Ben Kampf will battle for spots in the top seven, as will returning squad member Tim Bruhn and redshirt freshmen Sean Olson and Paul Hilsen.
A talented group of true freshmen, Andy Richardson, Travis Burkstrand, Peter Gagnon, and Kevin Lachowitzer will be waiting in the wings. David Krueger, Hans Storvick, Joe McFarland and Nick Hutton all will use the longer distances of cross country to prepare for their forte, the 800 meters, on the track.
“Along with the new guys, I’m looking forward to watching Blankenship and Olson, two potentially strong contributors, race in the maroon and gold for the first time,” added Plasencia.