The NCAA cross-country championship races are Saturday in Louisville. The women’s race (6-kilometer) starts at 11 a.m., the men’s (10K) at noon. Both Gophers teams are coming off strong showings in regional meets:
For the 11th season in a row, the Minnesota women’s team will run in the national meet. Only Stanford (23 consecutive seasons), Michigan State (16) and Michigan (14) have longer active streaks.
Senior Liz Berkholtz, a national qualifier for the fourth time, is expected to lead the team again, after finishing a team-best 80th at last year’s NCAA meet. Berkholtz and Kaila Urick earned All-Big Ten second-team honors in the conference meet, with Berkholtz running a season-best 20 minutes, 18.7 seconds for 11th place. Eight other Gophers join those two in Louisville: Emily Betz, Tamara Gorman, Haley Johnson, Jamie Piepenburg, Madeline Strandemo, Patty O’Brien, Stacey Swatek and Tess Wasowicz.
Minnesota, which got an at-large bid, finished third in the Midwest Regional and is ranked No. 23 in the country.
Aaron Bartnik led the team to a second-place finish at the Midwest Regional race last weekend. He finished 12th, one of four Gophers to finish in the top 25 and received all-region honors. Obsa Ali (14th), Adam Zutz (18th) and Charlie Lawrence (19th) joined him. Zutz earned All-Big Ten first-team honors by finishing seventh at the conference meet.
Christian Skaret, Eric Colvin, Matt Welch and Riley Macon are the four other Gophers heading to Louisville. All eight runners are from Minnesota.
The Gophers are ranked 16th nationally — up 10 spots after region meets. Coach Steve Plasencia picked up his fourth Midwest Region coach of the year honor this fall — fitting, considering the award is named after former Minnesota coach Roy Griak, who died in July after more than a half-century of coaching and being a part of Gophers cross-country. Referring to the award and qualifying for nationals, Plasencia said, “I was a little more emotional than I expected myself to be.”
Live results: Follow Saturday’s results via a link on gophersports.com.