Nov. 14, 2013
MINNEAPOLIS - After a third place showing at the Big Ten Conference championship, the No. 16 Minnesota women's cross country team heads into Friday's NCAA Midwest Regional looking to earn its ninth-straight NCAA championship appearance. Senior Laura Docherty and the rest of the Gophers hope their best races are still ahead of them.
Docherty led the Golden Gophers with an individual third-place showing at the Big Ten championship in West Lafayette, Ind., less than two weeks ago. The senior from St. Paul has made enormous strides since joining the Gophers as a redshirt freshman in 2009.
"My freshman year was a rocky start, as it is for all freshmen," Docherty said. "I knew in the back of my mind that, someday, [this is] where I wanted to be. You never know if it's really attainable though. I think every year I've progressed a little bit. For it to all come together, it feels really good."
Head coach Sarah Hopkins credits Docherty's success and maturity over the course of her career to old-fashioned hard work and patience. Docherty has been Minnesota's top runner in three meets this season, never finishing lower than third among her teammates.
"Day in and day out, she has been a hard worker, she stayed healthy, she stayed the course, she eats well, and she's gotten stronger," Hopkins said. "She's been able to be a consistent trainer. There's really no mystery to it. She's been patient with herself and hasn't tried to cut any corners, and now she's where she wants to be."
With her third-place individual finish, Docherty led a trio of All-Big Ten runners and paced the Gophers to their highest team finish in the conference since 2010. Junior Molly Kayfes and senior Maggie Bollig joined Docherty among the top 13 individual runners; all nine Gophers finished in the top 39 with their seven scoring runners in the top 30.
"I was happy with my finish," said Bollig, who came in 13th overall. "I wasn't really expecting to be second team All-Big Ten. I'm really happy with how we finished as a team. I think third in our conference is something to be really proud of just because it is such a deep conference and it's really competitive."
While the Gophers were pleased with their race at the Big Ten championship, they have not yet had the perfect meet where everyone has a great race on the same day.
"I think we're all just looking for that day," senior Kelli Budd said. "I know if everyone has a really good day, we can do some really awesome stuff."
"If we can all come together at the same time, it's going to be pretty cool to see," Docherty agreed. "It's going to be really awesome to be a part of that. I think if we all have our best races, we can be one of the top 10 teams in the country."
Docherty, Kayfes and Bollig have been Minnesota's most frequent top three runners, but depth at the front of the pack has allowed the Gophers to find success throughout the season with different runners stepping up with big performances each race.
Senior Katie Moraczewski came in second on the team and 15th overall at the Roy Griak Invitational in September, and Budd ran a season-best 21:31.6 as Minnesota's fourth runner at the Big Ten championship. Bollig posted her career-best time at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational (20:56) as Minnesota's fifth runner, and senior Rachel Drake had her highest team finish of the year as the fifth Gopher at the Griak.
"It's been really exciting to see," Budd said. "Everyone has improved the whole season. No one has really reached a plateau, especially in our top nine. Kait Mincke had a great Big Ten meet, especially for her first time [racing at Big Tens]. That was awesome."
"I think it's cool that we have so many interchangeable parts," Bollig agreed. "That's what really pushes us to get better each race. It's exciting that anybody could be our top runner on any given day. There hasn't been just one stand-out runner the entire season."
Minnesota's top 10 runners have made up the team's top nine in each varsity meet this season, but eight different Gophers have put themselves in the team's top five, including redshirt sophomores Liz Berkholtz and Becca Dyson.
"It hasn't been just one person's responsibility, which is a lot different than in other years. Usually the top five is pretty set," Budd said. "It's nice for our team to know that the pressure isn't just on five people. It's really on everyone."
A tight-knit team, the Gophers have embraced the shared responsibility and thrived off one another's success. Talent and depth have certainly contributed to Minnesota's success, but the Gophers' team chemistry is what sets them apart.
"Even outside of running, we're more than just teammates," Bollig said. "We're really close friends."
"There was definitely more of a team environment this year than ever before, but I feel like we're the closest we have been all season right now," Budd said. "Big Tens and beyond, we just really want it so bad for each other. We're happy with how Big Tens went but definitely not satisfied.
"That's the exciting part about NCAAs. We've had some really decent races, but we haven't had a great day. It's exciting that there's still kind of an unknown. If we all have a great day, what could we do?"
Now is the time to find out.
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Berkholtz Honored By USATF Minnesota
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No. 23 Gophers Head to NCAA Championship
Fifth-year seniors Liz Berkholtz and Kaila Urick lead Minnesota into its 11th-straight NCAA Championship this weekend.