Sept. 24, 2012
Volunteer assistant head coach Sarah Hesser will replace long-time head women's cross country coach Gary Wilson following the 2012-13 season, University of Minnesota director of athletics Norwood Teague announced Monday. Hesser has signed a multi-year contract to assume the duties of head cross country coach and assistant track coach after the outdoor track and field season.
"This would not have happened without Joel Maturi, Norwood Teague, and Marc Ryan," Wilson said. "We're thrilled that Sarah will be able carry on seamlessly the tradition of our cross country and distance program. I decided a long time ago that I wasn't going to overstay my welcome, and I'm thrilled that we've been able to make this transition. And after 36 years of marriage, my wife, Suzy, deserves a bit of my time. Without her support, this program wouldn't be where it is today."
Wilson will hand the cross country program over to Hesser after a prolific 28-year reign as head coach. During his tenure, he built Minnesota into one of the most consistent programs in the country. Wilson first brought the Gophers to the NCAA Championships in 1989, and they have been back 13 times since then. The Gophers finished a best-ever ninth place at the 2005 NCAA meet to usher in a streak of five straight top-12 NCAA finishes. Minnesota has qualified for the national meet each of the past seven years. Wilson has coached six different runners to nine All-America certificates.
Wilson guided the Gophers to their first-ever Big Ten cross country championship in 2007 and followed up with another title in 2008. Minnesota won three straight Midwest Region crowns in 2007, 2008, and 2009. Wilson was honored by his peers after both the 2007 and 2008 seasons with U.S. Track and Field/Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) NCAA Midwest Region Coach of the Year and Big Ten Conference Coach of the Year accolades.
On the track, Wilson served as head coach for 21 years. He guided the Gophers to their first Big Ten outdoor title in 2006. That same year, Heather Dorniden (indoor 800 meters) became Minnesota's first national champion. Wilson was named coach of the year for the Big Ten (outdoor), Midwest Region, and Midwest District. The Gophers scored at the NCAA outdoor meet in 14 of Wilson's 21 seasons at the helm. He has remained on staff as assistant coach since 2007.
When Wilson retires next spring, the Gopher coaching staff will still have a familiar feel. Hesser ran for Wilson's teams as a student-athlete, and has served as a volunteer under her former coach for seven years.
"Sarah has done a fabulous job as the long-time volunteer assistant coach to Gary Wilson, which has enabled her to learn under one of the best coaches in the country," senior associate athletics director Marc Ryan said. "This announcement will help provide a seamless transition from Gary to Sarah. Sarah has paid her dues and she is ready for this challenge."
As a Gopher runner, Hesser was a two-time cross country captain, senior track captain, and three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree.
As a coach, Hesser has been part of both of Minnesota's Big Ten cross country titles, and all four of its track and field conference titles. The Gophers have qualified for every cross country NCAA Championships meet since she joined the staff. Hesser worked with several All-Americans, including the Gophers' most recent honorees, Megan Duwell (2009) and Stephanie Price (2010). She has coached 16 athletes to 32 All-Midwest Region honors, and 11 different athletes to the All-Big Ten First or Second Teams.
Hesser has also assisted on the track as a volunteer distance coach. She was on staff for all four Big Ten titles. Since she began working with Minnesota's long-distance runners, the Gophers have seen major improvements in that area. In both 2009 and 2010, Megan Duwell and Amy Laskowske finished as Big Ten champion and runner-up, respectively, in the 10,000 meters. Laskowske went on to an All-America showing at that distance in 2009. Duwell was an All-American in the indoor 5,000 meters. More recently, this past spring, Laura Docherty had a breakout year on the track and finished fourth in the Big Ten 10,000-meter race under Hesser's tutelage.
Hesser owns a Level 1 Track and Field/Cross Country Coaching Certificate and is the 2012-2014 USTFCCCA Midwest Region Representative to the Executive Cross Country Committee.
"This has always been my dream job," Hesser said. "If you asked me eight years ago, I thought I would have been coaching somewhere else and hoping to come back someday. Everything lined up to stay here. I'm so thankful for Gary Wilson for being my mentor, and Matt Bingle for having faith in me. I'm also thankful to Joel Maturi and Norwood Teague for trusting Wilson and Bingle. I'm very excited to continue what Coach Wilson has built. We're going to have a heck of a team, and keep working on recruiting and keeping Minnesota kids here."
Wilson will remain connected to the program as the executive director of the Roy Griak Invitational, which has been perennially one of the biggest cross country meets in the country since Wilson helped establish it.
"We are indebted to Gary for his many years of hard work and dedication," Ryan said. "Without question, he is the heart and soul of our women's cross country and track and field program. It's also exciting to know that Gary will remain close to Gopher athletics and the women's cross country and track program as the executive director of the prestigious Griak Invitational."
Director of womens' track and field and cross country Matt Bingle started his Minnesota tenure as a track and field assistant coach under Wilson. He coached with Wilson since 2002 and with Hesser since she first became a volunteer assistant following her own running career.
"It's sad to see Coach Wilson leave," Bingle said. "We're very close, almost like father and son. But obviously he's earned the right to retire. I'm excited for him for the next stage of his life. He means a lot to me and I'm grateful for everything he's done for me and my family. I'm excited that Coach Hesser is going to remain part of our program. She has been very dedicated as a volunteer. She's a great young coach with a ton of energy for the sport. The team respects her and appreciates everything she does on a daily basis. I think she can keep building on what Coach Wilson has done. It will be a smooth transition for this program."