What Makes The Roy Griak Invitational Special?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Parts of this story originally appeared on the USTFCCCA Facebook page on September 25, 2015. CLICK HERE to read the original post.

“Every year teams come in ranked or unranked and this course really tells the true tale of how good you are. There are teams that will come in ranked in the top-10, end up having a bad race and finish 15th. Or there are teams that come out of nowhere and win the title and you say, ‘Wow. I didn’t realize they were that good.’” ~ USTFCCCA Coaches Hall of Fame member Gary Wilson

One question can often have multiple answers.

That’s because sometimes that question isn’t as straightforward as once thought.

What makes the Roy Griak Invitational special?”

For those who have been in charge of putting the meet together – like Minnesota coaching legend and Griak Invitational co-founder Gary Wilson and former Minnesota Director of Men’s Track & Field/Cross Country Steve Plasencia – the answer first centers on the help they receive.

“Our volunteers don’t get enough credit,” Wilson said back in 2015. “We get paid to do these things, but they bust their tails throughout the week to make sure it goes off without a hitch.”

Plasencia agreed and explained that the little things make a difference.

“Our volunteers go all-in,” said Plasencia, who was in the midst of his 20th season coaching the Gophers in 2015. “We’ll have 10 races on Saturday: The first one starts at 9, the last one at 5 – and they’ll have the same amount of energy the entire day. They’re always smiling and willing to help. They’re always champing at the bit on Friday to get out there and start.”

Those volunteers will be raring to go one day earlier in 2021.

That’s because the 35th edition of the meet will be held on Friday.

Both the Merrill Fischbein Men’s Gold (NCAA Division I) Race and the Jack Johnson Women’s Gold (NCAA Division I) Race will be first on the course, beginning at 10:30 am CT and 11:15 am CT, respectively. Following those headliners are the Jo Rider Men’s (NCAA Division II & Division III) Race at noon CT and Suzy Wilson Women’s Maroon (NCAA Division II & Division III) Race at 12:45 pm CT, capped by four high school races.

Topping The Podium At The Roy Griak Invitational

Here are the team champions from each of the three collegiate races at the Roy Griak Invitational over the past three iterations (NOTE: There wasn’t NCAA DIII-only scoring in 2019).
Year
Men’s Champions
Score
Women’s Champions
Score
2019
Duke
34
California Baptist
70
Augustana (S.D.)
42
Augustana (S.D.)
36
2018
Duke
74
Minnesota
52
Augustana (S.D.)
59
U-Mary
60
UW-Oshkosh
34
Nebraska Wesleyan
32
2017
Colorado State
47
San Francisco
22
Augustana (S.D.)
49
Simon Frasker
73
UW-Oshkosh
35
Carleton
26

Eleven teams who appeared in the top-30s of the most recent NCAA Division I and NCAA Division II National Coaches’ Polls will compete on Friday: three NCAA DI men’s programs – t-No. 3 BYU, No. 10 Iowa State, No. 26 Michigan State; three NCAA DI women’s programs – No. 6 Michigan State, No. 10 Minnesota, No. 30 Iowa State, one NCAA DII men’s program – No. 28 Michigan Tech; four NCAA DII women’s programs – No. 8 U-Mary, No. 19 Wayne State (Mich.), No. 22 Minnesota Duluth, No. 28 Michigan Tech.

READ MORE: Kiptoo vs Mantz – Meet Record In Danger On Saturday

“Every year teams come in ranked or unranked and this course really tells the true tale of how good you are,” said Wilson, who was inducted into the USTFCCCA Coaches Hall of Fame in 2015. “There are teams that will come in ranked in the top-10, end up having a bad race and finish 15th. Or there are teams that come out of nowhere and win the title and you say, ‘Wow. I didn’t realize they were that good.’”

Don’t forget about the course, especially since Roy Griak – the namesake of the meet – told Plasencia that “…the most important aspect of a cross country meet is the course.” Plasencia kept that in mind 16 years ago when he designed each tract the athletes will run Saturday.

“A lot of people think it’s just a piece of spaghetti put on top of a golf course,” Plasencia said. “I gave it some thought and wanted to make sure all four corners were used.”

Wilson loves the variety and unforgiving nature.

“Just on the 6K course I counted 52 little rises, which means as many, or more, downhills – and even more over 8000 meters,” Wilson said. “Those people who try to fight the course really, really pay for it in the end. If you don’t become ‘one’ with the course, it beats the crap out of you. Steve created his version of it with that in mind.”

Through it all – the volunteers, the competition, the course and probably a whole lot more – there has been one central figure to the Roy Griak Invitational over the years: Roy Griak, himself. Griak was the man who greeted all of those volunteers with his trademark smile; Griak was the man who developed the relationships to bring those top teams to Falcon Heights, Minnesota; Griak was the man who Plasencia can still clearly hear to this day telling him every year, “Steve, this spot right here (near the 7K mark) separates the men from the boys.”

Griak’s signature golf cart no longer zips around the grounds of Les Bolstad Golf Course or stops frequently to shake hands and make sure everything is running smoothly. Wilson won’t be able to hear his good friend complain about signing a bobblehead with his likeness and then, five hours later, see him holding court posing with that same figurine. Plasencia, who shared an office wing with the legend for many years, said in 2015 that the meet will now be remembered as “pre- and post-Griak – but that’s the way it should be.”

Griak passed away in July of 2015 and was posthumously inducted into the Roy Griak Invitational Hall of Fame as its inaugural member that same year.

“Roy will be here with us in spirit,” Wilson said. “I know I’ll smile every time I pound in a stake or cut a branch off a tree, because I’ll remember something Roy did or said.

“You know, when it comes down to it, what made the Roy Griak Invitational was Roy Griak. No one will ever forget that.”