Hosted by the University of Minnesota, the Griak includes six collegiate races and four high school races, with the competitor number reaching to the thousands of high-caliber athletes. The action gets underway from the course at 7 a.m. PT, and the USF men will toe the line at 10:20 a.m. PT, in the 8K loop spanning the full breadth of the golf course.
"The men's field has nine teams ranked between 15 and 30 in the country, so we could not ask for a better opportunity where we really have the ability to accomplish a lot," noted head coach Helen Lehman-Winters on USF's first opportunity to garner points on the season. "Alex is ready to roll and we have a strong core who gained valuable NCAA experience last year. They are fitter and more confident than a year ago, so we are excited to see how we stack up in this field."
On the men's side, the Dons will take off against 11 teams in the nation's Top 40, including No. 14 Boise State, No. 17 Michigan and Nos. 19 Portland and Oklahoma. USF's contingent includes Ben Alcock, Mohamed Aziz, Ryan Driscoll, Caleb McClain, Cristian Monsalud, Hugh Nicklason, Edward Shepherd and Alex Short. Last season, Short highlighted the Dons' cross country season with a berth to the NCAA Championships as an individual. Nicklason, the school record-holder in the 800 and 1,500 meters on the track, will be making his cross country debut on Saturday.
At the USF Cross Country Invitational at Golden Gate Park to begin the month, the Dons took second as a team with Short finishing third. Alcock, Aziz, Shepherd and Driscoll each finished in the top 20 to round out the USF point-getters at the successful season-opening invitational.
The women's start in the Jack Johnson Women's Gold Race is set for 11:35 a.m. PT, and the No. 20 Dons are lining up against three squads in the USTFCCCA Top 10, battling with No. 6 Boise State, No. 9 Michigan state and No. 10 Michigan, as well as five additional ranked teams.
"There is plenty of quality competition for us in the field," added Lehman-Winters. "We are competing ten women; seven of whom ran here last year so they know what to expect. Last year, when we made this trip, we were really not prepared to compete at this level. This year is a completely different story and we are ready to mix it up with some very good teams and pick up some points toward an NCAA at-large berth. We have a strong trio up front in Charlotte Taylor, Elena Burkard and Marie Bouchard and plenty of women who are capable of being legitimate 4-7 runners."
An impressive lineup made the trip to Minneapolis. Taylor paced the Dons out of the gate in the USF Invitational, taking third but crossing the finish line less than a second after a pair of Stanford student-athletes. Burkard finished seventh in the season opener, closely followed by Tatjana Schulte in eighth.
Bouchard will be making her USF debut, but is no stranger to the high-level success. The senior from Paimpol, France, finished 20th at last year's European Cross Country Championships and ran an impressive 9:45 in the steeplechase last spring. Magdalena Dias and Isabelle Brauer will also be suiting up for the Green and Gold for their first cross country race.
Kelsey Nielsen, Daryl Phill, Weronika Pyzik, Emma Stahr and Schulte will also make the 6K loop for the Dons, each with NCAA experience after competing for the Dons in the Championships last season.
"Both teams are training well," Lehman-Winters said. "We have not raced in three weeks so they are definitely feeling the itch to race."
Every race of the Roy Griak Invitational will be streamed live on FloTrack (FloPro subscription required).
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