2008 Golden Gopher Women's Cross Country Season Preview
When a program talks tradition, the element of consistency is an imperative ingredient. The Minnesota women’s cross country program can claim, without a doubt, that the Golden Gophers have built a tradition.
The consistency of the Gopher program is impressive and it starts with leadership. This consistent leadership comes not only from veteran head coach Gary Wilson, but in his likely apprentice Sarah Hesser. That leadership extends to the team captains, a position that over the years has more important as the roster size grew from a couple dozen student-athletes to annually one of the largest team in the nation numbering over 50.
Consistency is found in the philosophy of the program. The women that don the Maroon and Gold are committed not only working to become faster runners but only to becoming better people. Evidence of this is the team’s amazing grade point average year in and year out a combined team GPA of 3.51 in 2007-08. The Gophers also learn to become involved and informed citizens of their community. The Minnesota women’s cross country/track team was accorded the Athletic Department’s Community Service Award in 2008 honoring their commitment to the community outside of the athletic realm.
The consistency of leadership and philosophy has sculpted a program that is now enjoying the consistency that turns good teams into great teams. It’s the consistency of athletic success at the highest possible level of achievement has more than anything solidified the tradition of Golden Gopher women’s cross country. The trio of top-12 finishes at the NCAA Championships in each of the last three seasons has Minnesota on a consistency plateau that only five teams (Stanford, Illinois, Arizona State, Colorado and Michigan) can match.
“We are very excited about being included in such an elite group,” said Wilson. “The women on this team, from number 1 to number 50, have contributed to our success. Our goal is to continue on this very positive path.”
And it’s these factors of consistency that bring us to the outlook of the 2008 season.
The Golden Gophers enter the 2008 campaign with several goals in mind, one of the biggest being the defense of their Big Ten team title. A total of 14 letterwinners return, impressively 10 of them with NCAA Championships experience.
Jamie Cheever, an All-American and the Gophers’ co-most valuable runner in 2007, tops the list of veterans expected to build a tight-packed top seven this fall. Cheever is part of large junior class that is the foundation of the Minnesota roster. Four other members of that class, Elizabeth Yetzer, Megan Duwell, Heather Dorniden and Sally Paulson joined Cheever on the Gophers’ NCAA lineup. Yetzer, Duwell and Dorniden earned spots the NCAA All-Midwest Region team.
“Needless to say Cheevs and the rest of our group have done a wonderful job of developing their talents over the past three years,” Wilson added. “Most of these women were good high school runners, but not necessarily the All-American type. However, through their hard work and dedication that have grown into a real force in the nation. We could not be more proud of them.”
Another all-region performer in 2007, Gabriele Anderson, highlights a senior class that numbers only seven athletes. Anderson is the top returning runner from the Gophers’ Conference title run, where she was second on the team and 14th overall earning All-Big Ten Second Team honors. Julie Schwengler is a second senior with past NCAA Championships experience and joins Katelyn Barylak and Anderson as two-year team captains. Other captains for 2008 are Dorniden, Yetzer, Duwell and senior Carie Stiel.
“We have been blessed with outstanding captains and leaders in this program,” said Wilson. “Coaches Hesser and Suske and I have a group that not only works hard but also leads by example. Whatever task needs to be done, they get it done on time and with a real passion. This passions shows in so many things in this program weather it be team dinners, or skits or fun games or volunteer work. They are a classy group of young women and our program would not be as strong without their wonderful leadership.”
Three runners with their sights set on contending for a top-seven position are juniors Mallory Van Ness and Amy Laskowske and sophomore Nikki Swenson. Van Ness and Swenson, the only true freshman to earn a varsity letter a year ago, traveled as alternates to the NCAA Championships. Laskwoske, who made big strides in the distance events during the 2008 track season, looks to return to her all-region status of 2006.
Completing the list of returning letterwinners are Danie Ashford, Ariella DePrenger-Gottfried and Stiel.
“One never knows how a season will turn out but I know one thing for sure. This team will work hard every day and will continue to be balanced in their running, their academics and their purpose. Needless to say we have a very strong group and our goals will be set very high and if I was to guess I’d say this team will achieve anything that they set out to do.”