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The Minnesota men's cross country team garnered its seventh consecutive trip to the NCAA Championships by placing second at the NCAA Midwest Regional Championship in Stillwater, Okla., on Saturday. The Golden Gophers were edged by host Oklahoma State, 78-89, but both teams are awarded automatic berths to the NCAA Championships in Waterloo, Iowa, on Nov. 24.
Just two weeks after running to a disappointing sixth-place finish at the Big Ten Championships, the Gophers put together their finest race of the season to continue their national meet streak. This season, Minnesota also had to overcome the loss of All-American and 2002 Midwest Regional champion Andrew Carlson for the season due to a hip injury.
"I feel very gratified right now," said Golden Gopher head coach Steve Plasencia. "This team ran with a purpose, they didn't want to be the ones to see the streak end."
Luke Mullranin ran the best race of his Gopher cross country career in pacing the team's finish. The fifth-year senior had never run to Minnesota's top runner spot in a race, until now. Mullranin was the first of four Gophers to earn all-region honors by placing sixth overall, covering the 10-kilometer course in a time of 31 minutes, 17 seconds.
"Luke saw the kind of course he liked and was strong throughout the race," said Plasencia. "Luke is a fifth-guy. I could see him feeling mentally ready to step up for the team. He certainly backed it up."
Redshirt freshman Antonio Vega also recorded a top-10 finish to collect all-region honors in his first NCAA event. Vega was clocked at 31:24.
Junior Ryan Ford captured all-region honors for the second straight year by placing 23rd with a time 32:01. Senior Martin Robeck was the fourth Gopher to earn all-region acclaim, placing 25th in 32:03. The top 25 placewinners earn all-region accord.
Ryan Malmin just missed all-region honors, placing 26th in a time of 32:04. It was, however, the trio of Ford, Martin and Malmin - Minnesota's No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 runners - who provided the push necessary for the Gophers to accomplish their goal of returning to the NCAA Championships.
"Our number three-, four- and five- runners were the key," explained Plasencia, who will lead his squad to its seventh NCAA appearance in his eight seasons at Minnesota. "They worked together nicely over the last four kilometers of the race. Oklahoma State beat us up front, but no one else could match the performances of those guys."
Oklahoma State landed three runners in the top 10 finishes in winning the regional title. The Cowboys were led by individual champion Mindaugas Pukstas, who won with a time of 30:39, two seconds better than runner-up Benson Chesang of Kansas.
NCAA Midwest Regional Championship Saturday, Nov. 15, 2003 Stillwater, Okla. - 6K Team Results 1. Oklahoma State 1-4-8-22-43-(75)-(120) 60 2. Minnesota 6-9-23-25-26-(38)-(49) 63 3. Iowa 7-10-31-37-44-(50)-(123) 129 4. Kansas 2-11-19-51-53-(99)-(100) 136 5. Loyola (Ill.) 13-20-28-32-46-(52)-(54) 139 Top 10 Individuals 1. Mindaugas Pukstas (Oklahoma St.) 30:39 2. Benson Chesang (Kansas) 30:41 3. Mathew Chesang (Kansas State) 31:02 4. Jason Woolhouse (Oklahoma St.) 31:05 5. Brent Wilberts (Drake) 31:07 6. Luke Mullranin (Minnesota) 31:17 7. Brian Rae (Iowa) 31:19 8. Scott Rantall (Oklahoma St.) 31:22 9. Antonio Vega (Minnesota) 31:24 10. Matt Esche (Iowa) 31:26 Other Golden Gopher Finishes 23. Ryan Ford 32:01 25. Martin Robeck 32:03 26. Ryan Malmin 32:04 39. Michael Bialick 32:20 50. Erik Grumstrup 32:34