The Minnesota men’s cross country team, fueled by a one-two finish by All-Americans Hassan Mead and Chris Rombough, earned an automatic NCAA Championships berth by placing second at the NCAA Midwest Region Championships in Stillwater, Okla., on Saturday.
The No. 14 Golden Gophers captured their 11th NCAA Championships appearance in 12 years by finishing in the top two in the regional team standings. Host Oklahoma State tallied 42 for the team title, while Minnesota finished second with 51.
“We knew going in that Hassan and Chris could compete at the front of the pack,” said Golden Gopher Steve Plasencia. “What we needed was for our other guys to push forward and they certainly came through for us today. Ben (Blankenship) ran with great confidence today and was a key contributor. We have conditioned ourselves to be successful at the longer 10K distance run in the NCAAs.”
Mead, also the 2008 Big Ten Conference medalist, became the fourth Golden Gopher to win the Midwest Region individual title. The sophomore covered the 10-kilomter course at the Oklahoma State Cross Country Course in a time of 31 minutes, 15.65 seconds. He used a strong finish in the last 400 meters to push away for the win. Rombough was second in a time of 31:18.85.
Minnesota finished with six of its seven runners earning All-NCAA Midwest Region honors. Ben Blankenship, running his first Midwest Region meet after running in the South Region with Mississippi State a year ago, posted the best finish of his young Gopher career, placing 12th in a time of 31:28.45.
The final two Gopher scorers crossed the line back-to-back. Matt Barrett placed 19th in a time of 31:40.60, while Mike Torchia was 20th in 31:41.10. The sixth Gopher to earn all-region acclaim was Mike McFarland in 24th in a time of 31:56.85.
Also competing for the Gophers was Ben Puhl, who clocked a time of 32:19.95 and placed 40th overall.
The NCAA Championships is Monday, Nov. 24, in Terre Haute, Ind. The Gophers placed eighth in the national meet a year ago.