G The Minnesota women’s cross country team has a goal in mind. This talented, driven and cohesive group of Golden Gopher harriers strives to run at the NCAA Championships this fall. Head coach Gary Wilson, the dean of Big Ten coaches in his 21st season, has his charges focused and ready to attack the 2005 cross country season with a vengeance.
“We are coming off a tremendous and emotionally positive season a year ago,” said Wilson. “I think we are coming in in the best shape we ever have physically as well. We have great team chemistry.”
Senior Lauren Williams leads a deep roster with 11 letterwinners returning, including six who competed for the Gophers at the NCAA Midwest Region Championships. Williams burst on the scene in 2004 and claimed Minnesota’s number-one position, pacing the Gophers in every race. The team co-captain went on to earn All-Midwest Region and All-Big Ten Second Team honors; then completed the season by being voted the team’s MVP.
“Lauren is one of a long line of kids who walked on, worked hard and had a great attitude,” said Wilson. “She had a good high school career but has now matured into a great collegiate runner. We’ve excited for her senior season. She’s in the best shape of her life right now.”
Junior Emily Brown enters the fall cross country campaign in perhaps the best physical health of her collegiate career after rehabilitating from surgeries on both feet. The Gophers hope that Brown finds the same rhythm she discovered during the 2005 track season where she advanced to the NCAA Championships in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and broke the school record four times in the event. Brown was an all-region performer as a freshman in 2003.
“Once Emily got healthy, things started falling into place,” said Wilson. “She will now run will a different mindset after running at the NCAAs last track season. She knows she has the talent.”
Two Gopher sophomores hold plenty of promise after sensational rookie seasons a year ago. Ladia Albertson-Junkans is a motivated runner after just missing both all-region and all-conference acclaim by one place in the final standings. Once Albertson-Junkans acclimated herself to the collegiate distance, she firmly implanted herself among the Gophers’ top-three finishers in the last four meets of the season. Annie Yetzer was among the scoring runners throughout the season and earned valuable experience to better her position this season. Yetzer, however, may redshirt the season.
“Ladia has such a tremendous energy about her,” said Wilson. “She loves to run and has fun doing it.”
Speaking of experience, seniors Carly Emil, Jen Hess and Harper McConnell, will play key roles in the Gophers’ success in 2005. All three have posted times among the top 20 in school history. McConnell, along with Williams and senior Lisa Remark, will serve as captain of the 2005 Gopher team.
“These three seniors may very well be the key to our season,” said Wilson. “We need for them to all step up and have above-average seasons. Obviously if they all can hit this season, good things are in order for our team.”
Sophomores Katie Howery and Gabriele Anderson earned varsity letters as rookies a year ago and are runners to watch as the team develops this season. Howery showed continuous improvement and earned a spot on the Gophers’ squad that competed at the Big Ten Championships.
Other returning letterwinners are junior Stacia Kalinoski, senior Amy Lindner and junior Stefanie Zeihen.
The Gophers will add one transfer to the roster in Julie Schwengler. Schwengler comes to Minnesota with NCAA Regional experience as a freshman at Montana a year ago.
“We’re really excited about Julie Schwengler, she’s a talent,” said Wilson. “I think she has the definite ability to break into our top seven.”
The Golden Gophers’ freshman class is huge, 15 runners strong. Though they may not be able to make an immediate impact on the team’s successes this season, they will form the foundation for year’s to come.
Wilson is known for developing young talent, finding the diamond in the rough and molding them into solid Big Ten performers. “Of these 15 new faces, there could easily be five or more Lauren Williams in the group. Now, time will tell. There are always surprises…good surprises.
“Freshmen are like miners finding a vein of gold, they don’t know the quality until you start digging,” jokes Wilson.
The Gophers will once again play host to the prestigious Roy Griak Invitational on Sept. 24. The Invitational, celebrating its 20th year in 2005, is annually one of the largest meets in the country. Minnesota will also serve as the host of Big Ten Championships on Oct. 30.