The Golden Gopher cross country team heads to the Big Ten Championships confident that it can compete for one of the top spots.
Minnesota will bring a mix of veterans and first-timers to East Lansing this weekend. Five of the nine Gophers in this year's lineup have previous Big Ten meet experience. Minnesota's coaching staff has been pleased with the team so far in the season.
"It's been a great group to work with," assistant coach Sarah Hesser said. "They're a blast to work with. It's just a wonderful group of kids. From that standpoint, there's very little drama. They just work hard, and they've progressed."
After a breakout season on the track in 2012, Laura Docherty was the Gophers' top finisher in three of the four cross country races she has run this year. She won the Oz Memorial, finished fourth at the Roy Griak Invitational, and finished 51st in a loaded field at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational.
Molly Kayfes was close behind Docherty in three of those races, and beat out her teammate for first at the SDSU Classic. Kayfes came in 12th at the Griak and 55th at the Wisconsin meet. She is the highest finishing Gopher returner, having taken 19th place at the Big Ten meet in 2011.
Ashlie Decker and Katie Moraczewski have alternated as the Gophers' No. 3 and 4 runners up to this point in the season. Decker finished 18th at the Griak and 141st at the adidas Invitational. Moraczewski finished 26th and 84th, respectively, at those races.
Rachel Drake, Maggie Bollig, and Kelli Budd have been consistent for the Gophers throughout the season. Drake was the team's No. 5 runner at both the Griak and at Wisconsin, while Bollig was No. 7 at both. Budd was the Gophers' sixth finisher at the Griak and solidified her spot on the Big Ten roster by leading the Gophers with a third-place finish in the open race at Wisconsin.
A trio of freshmen will travel to Michigan State for the meet. Liz Berkholtz has been in the Gophers' top eight all season, coming in at the No. 6 team spot at Wisconsin. Jamie Piepenburg has shown promise during her true freshman year. She started off the season with a sixth-place finish at the Oz Memorial, and finished 23rd (third on the team) in the Wisconsin open race. Becca Dyson, another freshman, is the first alternate for the Big Ten meet.
The Gophers enter this weekend ranked fourth among Big Ten teams. Michigan leads the way in a tie for seventh in the USTFCCCA's national poll. Penn State (13th) and Michigan State (15th) are also ranked ahead of No. 25 Minnesota. The Gophers will focus on their own performance and strategy rather than thinking about their opponents.
"We're just going to go on the line and fight as hard as we can from the gun until the finish line, and the cards will fall where they fall," Hesser said. "There's only so much you can control. ....We can't control what anybody else is doing right now."
For complete season statistics of all Gopher runners, click the link in the box at the top of the page.