Hess and Emil teaming up to pace cross country’s success

by Adam Fink

It was on a joint recruiting trip to Minnesota last October when cross country runners Jen Hess and Carly Emil first met.

Both were the top runner at their state high schools, Hess in Minnesota and Emil in North Dakota.

At the time, both were seriously considering separate colleges in warmer climates. But Gophers coach Gary Wilson impressed the pair, and both signed letters of intent with Minnesota the following month.

Unbeknownst to the women, Wilson coordinated their visit in an effort to convince each one to join the other at Minnesota.

“I wanted to get them to know each other,” Wilson said. “We had them targeted for awhile as top recruits we wanted to bring in. They are the future of this team.”

Eleven months later, Hess and Emil have already experienced collegiate success at No. 28 Minnesota’s first two meets. In addition, the two scholarship freshmen have formed a friendship in which they push each other to succeed.

Saturday’s Roy Griak Invitational will serve as a measuring stick for the duo. Twenty-one other teams are competing, far more than either has ever seen in one meet.

In their first test at the teams intrasquad meet Sept. 7, Hess and Emil finished third and fourth, respectively, in the 5,000 meter race.

How they got there was a study in contrasts.

Hess jumped to a quick 15-foot lead, only to find herself tiring half-way through.

Emil, on the contrary, paced herself the entire race. It was a learning experience for Hess and Emil, who watched her dorm room neighbor falter.

“I won’t do that again,” Hess said about expending too much energy too early. “We are learning from watching what each other does.”

The duo traded places the following weekend at the four-team Memorial “Oz” run, Emil finished third and Hess fourth for the Gophers.

“I was hoping for success,” said Emil, a native of Mandan, N.D. “But I didn’t really expect this.”

“I was happy we did well this early,” added Hess, a Paynesville, Minn., native.

Despite the close finishes and the knowledge only Minnesota’s top-nine runners go to the Big Ten meet, the two do not compete with each other.

Instead, they spend their time together reflecting on their goals and future with the team.

“We want each other to do well,” said Hess. “I’m happy when Carly has success.”

After a month on campus, Hess and Emil are making the transition to college running the same way they have finished the first two races, near each other.

“I feel comfortable running knowing Jen is right there,” Emil said. “If I stay with her, I know I am in good shape.”

Hess and Emil know the process is far from over but their teammates have begun to take notice.

“They are not afraid,” senior Jill Field said. “They are dealing with the expectations of each practice and race very well. They seem to be on top of their game.”

The rate at which Hess and Emil’s relationship has developed isn’t surprising. Both were the top runners in their state in high school, come from small towns, and graduated with the second-highest GPA in their high school.

While helping the team thus far is a plus, Hess and Emil know they have their best running ahead of them. In the meantime, their coaches and peers are enjoying watching the hard work and naïve youth pay off on the course.

“They have been fantastic for us,” Wilson said. “We hope they can keep it up. Most importantly, they need to keep learning and studying to avoid hitting any slump.”

Not that Hess or Emil would let the other one stumble.