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Minnesota Invite Challenges Spartan Runners

By Fatin Amin

The cross country team traveled to Minnesota to compete in their first ever Roy Griak Cross Invitational, hosted by University of Minnesota, on Sept. 26. A total of 37 teams from Division I, II, and III participated in the event as the Spartans took their strides and competed with the nation’s top runners at Les Bolstad Golf Course.

The women’s team came in seventh place overall, racking up  an impressive 187 points in the 6K run, while the men’s team came in with a total of 581 points in the 8K to finish in 23rd place. Leading the women’s overall time for the meet was senior Chantalle Blundell who finished seventh overall with a time of 22:58.8, followed by junior Claudia Cancello (24:09.3), senior Danielle Kissel (24:27.8), junior Elaina Cancello (24:32.6) and senior Aimee Epps (24:44.4). For the men’s, junior Cory Munsch came in 99th place out of 392 runners with a time of 28:14, followed by junior Brendan McGonagle (28:21), sophomore Jake Poore (28:22), junior Matt Hoffman (28:38) and freshmen Joe Weber (29:06).

Munsch described the meet as a learning experience since he felt the opportunity to run with the top schools in the nation was an eye-opener. As the meet was on unchartered grounds, Munsch looked forward to see the difference from running in Florida compared to other states.

“The benefit of racing outside of Florida is that it allows us to experience different competition and courses,” Munsch said. “This was our first time going to the Roy Griak Invitational in Minnesota so for us it was fun to see how we stacked up against everyone else.  In Minnesota, we were able to compete against some northern teams that we typically never see during the regular season.”

Since the start of the season Munsch has seen progress among his fellow runners. However, the Spartans faced many challenges during the meet as Munsch felt the hilly course was a different monster to tackle, especially with key runners like Lars Benner and Tyler Blackburn absent from the meet.

“I believe this team has improved from our first meet of the season,” Munsch said. “However, our times were slower due to the amount of hills on this course compared to our first two meets.”

On the flip side, junior Elaina Cancello found the tournament incredibly refreshing and beneficial for the team’s growth. Branching outside of the Sunshine State Conference offers a unique perspective on how other colleges strategize before and during races. She also praised the weather for being a refreshing alternative to the sweltering heat of Florida.

“I thought it was a really good experience getting to run with a lot of the big teams that we’ll get to see at nationals,” Cancello said. “I also really enjoyed the weather because there was no humidity.”

Women’s head coach Jarrett Slaven echoed Cancello’s sentiments, finding that the team performed well despite the long journey and unfamiliar territory.

“We went up there because we wanted to take on some of the best teams in the nation and it was overall a great trip,” Slaven said. “Chantelle Blundell was seventh and there were 37 teams competing, so there was a massive [amount of people who participated] at the beginning, but she ended up running a wonderful race. The team came in seventh place so we’re really happy with the outcome.”

Slaven spotted various weaknesses his team faced as they battled it out on the course. Even with practices on undulating hills, nothing could compare to the course his runners had to endure. However, Slaven was satisfied with his team’s overall results and commended his runners for their hard work.

“There were a lot of hills and, as you know, in Florida it’s hard to practice on hills,” Slaven said. “This course in Minnesota was very hilly and a lot of twists and turns so the course itself was brutal but the girls handled it well.”

Men’s head coach Dror Vaknin, expressed a desire for his team to compete in bigger events as compared to small ones to give his runners a feel of what it is like to compete among the top runners in the country.

“We like to take our guys to bigger meets sometimes,” Vaknin said. “Sometimes it may be too big for us but it’s good to challenge a kid and get them to compete against top athletes and see how they compare to bigger programs.”

The cross country team will have a chance to prove the experience of the tournament paid off, at their next meet. They head out to Kissimmee, Fl to compete in the Disney Invite presented by New Balance on Oct. 10.

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