Aug. 23, 2012
The Minnesota cross country team begins fall training camp this Friday, August 24. With a strong group of returners and a promising freshman class, head coach Gary Wilson and the Golden Gophers have high hopes for the coming season.
The team brings back six of last year’s top seven runners. (Stephanie Price, a 2010 All-American, graduated.) Ashlie Decker, Molly Kayfes, Maggie Bollig, Katie Moraczewski, Laura Docherty, and Cassy Opitz all return after competing at the NCAA Championships last season.
Volunteer assistant head coach Sarah Hesser said that the team’s young runners gained confidence and maturity as the season went on, especially as they performed well in big meets.
“Last year, they really got some experience in terms of having to be counted on at the end,” she said.
Those runners will have less of a transition this year now that they are used to the pressure and they realized that they have the ability to race with top college competitors. This year, they hope to take the next step to improve upon last year’s fifth-place finish in the Big Ten and 27th-place finish at the NCAA Championships.
“We’re going to be looking for a solid couple of frontrunners,” Hesser said. “I think that’s the thing that will elevate us, hopefully, from being a team that qualifies for the national meet to being a team that is in contention to win a Big Ten title or a team that’s in contention to be in the top 15 in the country.”
While replacing an All-American in Price could be a challenge, the coaches have chosen to look at the positives in the situation. It could be beneficial for the other Gophers not to have the expectation that one of their teammates will always be ahead of them. With no All-American to set the pace behind, and thus no perceived “ceiling,” this year’s Gophers will have to decide for themselves how fast they want to race. They may push themselves even harder than before.
The loss of Price also opens up the competition for the No. 1 spot. Hesser believes that Docherty is one of the favorites to contend for that slot. She had a breakout year on the track, finishing fourth in the 10,000 meters and seventh in the 5,000 meters at the Big Ten meet, and the coaches would like her to make a jump in cross country, as well.
Competition for the top seven places in general will be strong. In addition to the NCAA Championships competitors mentioned above, NCAA Regional runner Rachel Drake and Big Ten Championships runner Missa Varpness also return from last season. A handful of other runners, including freshmen like Jamie Piepenburg and Haley Johnson, could push for a place in the top seven by the end of the season.
While the NCAA meets are exciting and important, the Big Ten meet will be the Gophers’ major focus during the early part of the season. If they continue to improve and build off of what they did last year, the coaches could see them contending for a conference crown.
“I really firmly believe that this group can put five in the top 25 at the conference meet,” Hesser said.
The Gophers’ annual training camp in Ely will be their first step together toward preparing for Big Tens and the rest of the season ahead. Following camp, the Gophers will open up the season with an intrasquad meet on Saturday, Sept. 1, at 9:30 a.m. at Les Bolstad Golf Course.
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