Distance Runners to Build off Fall Success
Jan. 6, 2014
MINNEAPOLIS – The Golden Gopher harriers capped a successful cross country season with a 20th-place team finish at the 2013 NCAA Cross Country Championships. Minnesota’s distance crew is poised to carry over its success from the fall into the upcoming track and field season.
In the 2013 cross country season, senior Laura Docherty paced the team to a third-place team finish with her individual third-place showing at the 2013 Big Ten Championships; junior Molly Kayfes and senior Maggie Bollig joined Docherty in earning all-conference accolades. Kayfes also led the Gophers with a runner-up finish at the Midwest Regional where five Gophers earned all-region honors with top-25 finishes.
"I’m excited about the distance group," director of track and field and cross country Matt Bingle said. "Coming off cross country, they had a good year. Some people improved a lot there. There are a lot of juniors and seniors in that group, and in order for a team to be great, you need good juniors and seniors doing what they’re supposed to do. That’s going to be a key to everything."
Veterans, Captains Provide Strong Leadership
In addition to a strong core of juniors and seniors providing leadership, the distance crew will rely on its three captains to direct the team’s success. Laura Docherty, Anne Ferguson and Molly Kayfes have been named captains for this year’s distance squad.
"I think it’s a great group," assistant coach Sarah Hopkins said. "The mix of those three is going to work really well for this group. Each of them has certain kids on the team who feel comfortable coming to them."
Senior Laura Docherty was the lone Gopher to qualify for the outdoor national meet last season, earning All-America honorable mention status by finishing 18th in the 5,000m (16:24.02). She also broke the school record in the 10,000m as a junior, clocking in at 33:24.93 at Stanford.
"Laura Docherty has been a leader by example, a leader vocally, a leader emotionally, a leader in every way you could ask for in terms of her story, and what she’s done and how she’s gotten to this point," Hopkins said. "A lot of people just look to her to see how to get there. She’s very vocal and very good about helping the younger kids along."
Anne Ferguson enters her redshirt sophomore season after competing in the 800m, 1,500m, mile and 4x400m relay as a freshman last season. She ran her season-best mile time of 5:05.67 at the Iowa State Classic. Outdoors, she ran her best 1,500m time of 4:42.07 at the Alabama Invite.
"Anne Ferguson is probably one of the best kids in America, just in terms of her personality and her general demeanor," Hopkins said. "She’s always a hard worker and always has a positive attitude. She genuinely wants to see everyone do well. If I need help with something as a coach, she’s always the first person to say she can help.
"Not every captain is going to be a Big Ten champion, but you need that mix. Anne has the ability to be on our Big Ten team this year, but she’s also probably going to be at some of those smaller meets and she’ll be a good person to take charge of that group."
Molly Kayfes also served as a captain for the 2013 cross country campaign, leading the team as Minnesota’s top finisher at three meets. As a sophomore on the track last spring, Kayfes finished third in the 5,000m at the indoor Big Ten championships with the third-best time in school history (16:15.31).
"Molly’s definitely a very good example of how to get things done physically, but she’s also a little feistier," Hopkins said. "I think sometimes you need that, too, somebody who has a little bit more of a fiery demeanor.
"They all bring something different to the table, but they really lead in their own way. They’re a good blend for the team."
January to June
The distance runners approach track and field with a slightly different perspective than the sprinters or field event specialists. Hopkins explained how the team balances training almost all year round between cross country, indoor track and outdoor track.
"With distance runners, because of the fall and because of the way the year works, we have to think about the track season from January until June," Hopkins said. "It’s very difficult to try to get everything you want to get in from January to the beginning of March, and then come down and come back up and do another cycle.
"The way we look at it is that it’s great to have an awesome indoor season, and we’re going to try to do as well as we can and be ready to go for indoor, but not at the expense of not being ready to go for outdoor. With distance runners, you have to look at it as a bigger cycle that way."
Building Off Cross Country
Hopkins expects the distance crew to carry over much of its success from the cross country season into the indoor track season. Not only can the team rely on the physical base of mileage and fitness they built during the fall, but Hopkins expects they will carry over their confidence as well.
"They know what they’ve got coming out of cross country is going to carry them through the indoor season. They don’t need to start over," Hopkins said. "You’re building on what you did in the summer, what you did in the fall, as evidenced by our mile time trial at the end of the cross country season. They ran really fast – and they hadn’t done any speed work."
Hopkins was especially pleased with senior Katie Hill, who ran a personal best pure mile of 4:52 off her cross country training during the team’s mile time trial.
Breakout Season: Who to Watch
Hopkins has high hopes for success and special performances across the board among her distance runners this spring, but she noted a few groups to specifically watch for to have big, breakout seasons.
"The mile group is the group I’m most excited about in terms of having a breakout season," Hopkins said. "I think the 3,000m/5,000m group has established themselves where everyone in the conference, including themselves, knows that they are very, very talented.
"The mile group made some jumps last year, but this year their challenge is to really be a presence in the conference. Maggie Bollig, Becca Dyson, Katie Hill, Kaitlin Mincke, Cassy Opitz – that’s the group I’m really excited to watch and see how they make that jump into not just trying to make a final, but putting three or four people in the final and doing some damage. As a group, they are ready to do that."
Individually, Hopkins expects seniors Kelli Budd and Maggie Bollig to make great strides after successful cross country seasons. Budd enters the 2014 track season as a stronger, savvier runner who will contend in the steeple chase and 5,000m. Likewise, Bollig will help lead the mile/1,500m group.
Hopkins looks forward to seeing what senior Te’Shon Adderley can do as well.
"Te’Shon had a great year last year, but it was sort of her debut," Hopkins said of the senior, who transferred to the University of Minnesota for last season after two years at Iowa Central Community College. "She didn’t quite know what to expect out of herself, and now that she has a bit of a benchmark for what she knows she can accomplish, it’s a matter of going to the next level and trying to win the 800m and make it to the national championship. It’s a big jump, but I think she’s fully capable of doing that."
Hopkins also noted that she expects big things from the longer distance runners. She expects Docherty and Kayfes to lead the Gophers in the 3,000m, 5,000m and 10,000m, along with Ashlie Decker, Rachel Drake, Katie Moraczewski and Jamie Piepenburg, while Kate Bucknam, Taylor Mikkalson, Moraczewski and Kaila Urick will likely join Budd in leading the team in the 3,000m steeple chase.
Relying on their veterans, the distance runners’ main goal is to contribute in a big way at the conference meet.
"Across the board, the goal is being a big-time presence at the conference meet and being comfortable getting on the line and fighting for being in the top four or five as opposed to just hoping we can make a final," Hopkins said. "We are the veteran group. Compared to the throws and sprinters, we’re predominantly juniors and seniors, and I think it’s our responsibility as a group to put up what we know we can because it’s going to help the whole team."