Gopher men's cross country head coach retires after 25 years |

Gopher men's cross country head coach retires after 25 years

University of Minnesota
Created: July 09, 2021 01:25 PM

After 25 years with the University of Minnesota, Coach Steve Plasencia has hit the “finish line“ and will be leaving his coaching duties at the University of Minnesota. Coach “Plaz,” as he is affectionately known, has had a long and successful career with the Golden Gophers.


After competing for the United States in the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, and the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain, Plasencia was hired as the head coach of Gopher men’s cross country in 1996 and served in that capacity for 13 years. In 2008, he was promoted to director of men’s cross country and track & field. Following a reorganization of the track & field program in 2018, Plasencia remained head coach for cross country and became assistant track & field coach. 

Coach Plasencia’s teams’ accomplishments include: 
• Five Big Ten Track & Field Team Championships 
• Three-time Big Ten Indoor Team Championships 
• Two-time Big Ten Outdoor Team Championships 
• 26 Big Ten Indoor Individual Champions 
• 22 Big Ten Outdoor Individual Champions 
• 82 Indoor Track and 47 Outdoor Track All-Americans 
• 15 NCAA Cross Country Championship appearances 
• Eight top-20 NCAA Cross Country team finishes 
• 12 Cross Country All-Americans 
• 3 Big Ten Cross Country individual champions 
• 39 All-Big Ten Cross Country Awards 

In cross country, Plasencia’s teams made 15 appearances at the NCAA Cross Country Championships, highlighted by the 2007 squad celebrating an eighth-place finish, which marked the Gophers’ third-highest NCAA showing in school history. Overall, the Gophers recorded eight top-20 NCAA team finishes and collected 12 All-America nods on the cross country course under Plasencia’s direction. Competing in one of the nation’s toughest cross country conferences, Plasencia’s Gophers earned 17 top-five team finishes in the Big Ten, and Plasencia coached Chris Rombough (2006) and Hassan Mead (2008, 2009) Big Ten individual crowns. Plasencia’s Gophers earned 39 All-Big Ten cross country awards as well. 

Plasencia’s Gophers also found success on the track. His first season as track & field head coach turned out to be one of the finest in school history as the Gophers won both the 2009 Big Ten Conference indoor and outdoor team titles. The Gophers and Plasencia repeated the sweep in 2010 and picked up a third-straight B1G indoor team title in 2011. Plasencia’s Gophers were also undefeated in dual meets from 2014-2018. From 2009 to 2021, the Gophers won 26 indoor and 22 outdoor Big Ten individual titles and collected 82 indoor and 47 outdoor All-America awards. Most recently, Alec Basten and Obsa Ali achieved national success in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Basten finished as NCAA runner-up and Big Ten champion in 2021 after Ali won back-to-back Big Ten titles in 2018 and 2019 and became the program’s 14th NCAA champion in 2018. 

Coach Plasencia’s coaching accolades include: 
• Four-time Midwest Region Cross Country Coach of the Year (1998, 2001, 2004, and 2015) 
• Two-time Midwest Region Indoor Track & Field Coach of the Year (2009 and 2011) 
• Three-time Big Ten Indoor Coach of the Year (2009, 2010 and 2011) 
• Two-time Big Ten Outdoor Coach of the Year (2009 and 2010) 

Along with his success at the college level, Plasencia’s coaching experience includes working with world-class athletes. In addition to coaching himself to two Olympic Games, Plasencia advised training partners in 1984 Olympian Don Clary and Mike Bilyeu, who finished sixth in the 5,000 meters at the 1992 Olympic Trials, on their training. Following their Gopher careers under Coach Plasencia’s direction, Ben Blankenship, placed eighth in the 1,500 meters, and Hassan Mead, placed 11th in the 5,000 meters, competing at the 2016 Olympic Games. 

Coach Plasencia’s departure marks the conclusion to a storied chapter of the University of Minnesota cross country and track & field program’s history. We thank Coach Plaz for his years of dedication to his athletes and the University and wish him all the best in his next chapter.

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