Junior Hassan Mead cruised to his second consecutive NCAA Midwest Region Championships title on Saturday in Springfield, Mo., crossing the finish line 28 seconds ahead of his nearest competitor. Minnesota finished fourth as a team and will have to wait until Monday to see if the Golden Gophers’ season of work warrants an at-large berth in the NCAA Championships.
Mead is the first back-to-back regional champion in Gopher history (Andrew Carlson won in 2002 and again in 2004). The Minneapolis native covered the 10-kilometer Missouri State University course in a time of 30 minutes, 21.9 seconds.
Mead and Iowa State’s Guor Marial took the lead early and quickly distanced themselves from the pack. Mead made a second push around the 4-kilometer mark and soon found himself alone at the front. The Gophers’ standout had built such a big lead that he was able to even ease up a bit in the final kilometer, important since the national championship race is just nine days away. Southern Illinois senior Jeff Schirmer was second in 30:49.9.
“Hassan really was the class of the field out there today,” said Golden Gopher head coach Steve Plasencia. “We went in with a plan today and Hassan executed it perfectly.”
Senior Matt Barrett picked up his second career all-region honor by placing 15th overall, second for the Gophers, in a time of 31:05.0.
Oklahoma State, ranked third in the nation, captured the Midwest Region title with a team score of 50 points and collected one of the region’s automatic qualifiers for the NCAA Championships. Oklahoma earned the second automatic bid by placing second with 71 points. Iowa State finished third with 104 points ahead of the Gophers’ tally of 125.
The Gophers were unable to close the gap between their top two finishers (Mead and Barrett) and the remainder of their scoring runners. Ben Blankenship finished 28th in a time of 31:48.3, followed by Pieter Gagnon in 38th (32:02.8) and Mike McFarland in 51st (32:32.9). Other Gophers competing were Derek Storkel (66th, 33:01.7) and Paul Hilsen (117th, 34:27.7). Gagnon, Storkel and Hilsen ran their first NCAA 10-kilometer races of their collegiate careers. A distance of 8 kilometers is contested during the regular season. The regional and national meets are run at 10 kilometers.
With 18 teams having punched their tickets to the NCAA Championships, another 13 at-large bids will be awarded to teams on Monday. Mead will compete at the Championships regardless of whether Minnesota advances as a team or not. The NCAA Championships is Monday, Nov. 23, in Terre Haute, Ind.
“We are certainly a bubble team,” said Plasencia. “All we can do is wait and hope.”