MINNEAPOLIS — The 2016 Roy Griak Invitational Jack Johnson Women’s Gold Race features runners from 36 teams battling for the top spot in the six-kilometer race.

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Fifteen teams from last year’s Griak field return to Les Bolstad Course this season, including the top three teams from a year ago. This year’s entries include nine 2015 NCAA Championship participant teams, two 2015 conference champion teams, and nine nationally ranked squads.

Leading the returning teams from a year ago is 2015 Griak team champion Boise State, which placed four individuals in the top 11 en route to its team title. Joining the Broncos on the podium were runner-up Michigan State and host Minnesota in third place.

In total, seven of the top 12 teams from a year ago return as part of the 2016 field with Colorado State (sixth), Wyoming (eighth), Illinois (ninth), and Arizona (12th) entered in this year’s race.

In addition, top-25 finishers San Francisco (13th), Central Michigan (14th), Pitt (15th), South Dakota State (17th), Iowa State (19th), Northwestern (20th), Southern Utah (24th), and UMKC (25th) make their way back to Les Bolstad Course this year.

The Women’s Gold Race will see a new individual champion this year as Bethan Knights and Cal will not return for the 2016 edition of the Griak. Knights led the Golden Bears to a fifth-place team showing last year, finishing in 20:53.8 and claiming the individual crown over Boise State’s Allie Ostrander (21:09.4).

Michigan State’s Rachele Schulist took fifth at the Griak in both 2015 and 2014 and joins Ostrander to make up this year’s top two individual returners. Last year, Shulist led the way for the Spartans as all five of MSU’s scoring runners finished in the top 36 to secure Michigan State’s runner-up team showing.

Host Minnesota finished third of 26 teams at the Griak a year ago led by Haley Johnson’s 13th place showing in 21:53.2. The Gophers’ podium appearance marked the program’s highest finish since also placing third in 2012. Behind Johnson, Liz Berkholtz (22:06.3), Madeline Strandemo (22:27.4), Kaila Urick(22:28.9), and Jamie Piepenburg (22:41.3) rounded out the top five Gophers.

Strandemo is Minnesota’s lone returner from the Gophers’ top five at last year’s Griak; she is joined by Danielle Anderson, Anne Haakenstad, and Tess Wasowicz to make up Minnesota’s four team captains this year. Anderson finished second for the Gophers at the 2014 Griak before missing last year’s meet due to injury, and Bailey Ness is back for Minnesota after redshirting the 2015 season; she took fourth on the team at the Griak as a true freshman in 2014.

Minnesota, which placed 18th at the 2015 NCAA Championship, is joined by eight other teams that competed at last year’s NCAA meet: Michigan (sixth), Boise State (11th), Michigan State (13th), Penn State (16th), Mississippi State (17th), Iowa State (24th), UMCK (26th), and San Francisco (28th).

In addition to the NCAA-caliber competition, this year’s Griak serves as an unofficial preview of the 2016 Big Ten Championship, which will take place at Minnesota’s Les Bolstad Course on Sunday, Oct. 30. Eight other B1G teams join the host Gophers this weekend to prep for the conference meet (Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, and Rutgers). Penn State won the 2015 Big Ten team title, and the Nittany Lions return seven of their nine B1G runners from last season.

Along with Penn State, Furman enters the 2016 Griak as a defending conference champion, having claimed the 2015 Southern Conference title. Eight 2015 conference runners-up will toe the line at the Griak as well in Boise State (Mountain West), Eastern Washington (Big Sky), Iowa State (Big 12), Michigan (Big Ten), Mississippi State (SEC), Navy (Patriot League), South Dakota State (Summit League), and UMKC (WAC).

According to the USTFCCCA Division I national coaches poll week two rankings, nine of the teams in the Griak field land among the nation’s top 30: No. 6 Boise State, No. 9 Michigan State, No. 10 Michigan, No. 13 Penn State, No. 17 Iowa State, No. 20 San Francisco, No. 25 Minnesota, No. 29 Mississippi State, and No. 30 Portland.

With so many storylines at this year’s Jack Johnson Women’s Gold Race and nearly 500 runners entered in the competition, there is sure to be something for every cross country fan.

—-Courtesy of The Golden Gopher

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