New to the sport, Kayfes fights to impress

Molly Kayfes walked onto the cross country team with no prior experience and is using this season to prove herself.

Freshman Molly Kayfes, center, runs beside Senior Stephanie Price Saturday, Sept. 24th in the Roy Griak Invitational on the St. Paul Campus.

Image by Joe Michaud-Scorza

Freshman Molly Kayfes, center, runs beside Senior Stephanie Price Saturday, Sept. 24th in the Roy Griak Invitational on the St. Paul Campus.

by Dane Mizutani

ItâÄôs hard to imagine Molly Kayfes âÄî one of the most consistent runners on the Gophers this season âÄî had never run cross country prior to her arrival at the University of Minnesota.

One year ago, Kayfes was an incoming freshman with little to no intentions of competing as an intercollegiate athlete.

âÄúIt kind of crossed my mind during the summer because I knew I liked to run, but I didnâÄôt know,âÄù she said.

Kayfes, a native of Maple Grove, Minn., has played soccer for 14 years, including all four years of high school, and ran track during her freshman and sophomore years.

She never had the opportunity to run cross country because it always conflicted with her soccer schedule in the fall.

âÄúI was planning on doing intramurals for sure,âÄù Kayfes said. âÄúBut then I thought maybe I want something more. I missed the [competition] and the team and everything.

âÄúI think less than a month into school I was like, âÄòI need a sport. ItâÄôs just not the same without one.âÄôâÄù

Kayfes said she first emailed womenâÄôs track and field head coach Matt Bingle about walking on the team, and waited two weeks, but didnâÄôt hear back.

She emailed him again and Bingle referred her to womenâÄôs head cross country coach Gary Wilson, who was hesitant at first, to say the least.  

âÄúI didnâÄôt let her come out,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúShe came into my office and said, âÄòIâÄôm going to walk on.âÄô I said, âÄòNo, youâÄôre not. YouâÄôre going to quit on me.âÄô

âÄúShe said, âÄòIâÄôm not quitting.âÄô I said, âÄòYouâÄôll quit. I donâÄôt trust you. I donâÄôt want you here.âÄô

âÄúShe came back the next week and the next week and the next week and finally after about 10 weeks of bothering me she started coming to practice to watch and then all of a sudden I went, âÄòOh boy. This kidâÄôs the real deal.âÄôâÄù

Still, Wilson was uncertain of what to expect, as many walk-on athletes in the past have completed the walk-on process and quit the team shortly after. 

âÄúI didnâÄôt start until the indoor track season of last year and he would still say, âÄòI donâÄôt trust youâÄô and slowly as it started progressing and realized I wasnâÄôt going anywhere, he started to trust me more,âÄù Kayfes said. âÄúI think that is what he was most worried about.âÄù

Fast-forward to her first cross country campaign and Kayfes has really started to mature. She said sheâÄôs excited about the prospect of having four years of eligibility remaining.

She finished 10th in her first career cross country competition at the Intrasquad Meet on Sept. 3.

âÄúIn our first meet I was like, âÄòWhat did I get myself into?âÄôâÄù Kayfes said. âÄúI got 10th in that and was kind of disappointed in myself because I knew I could do better. In the next meet I knew I needed to do better.

âÄúI learned from that first meet for sure. IâÄôve learned it takes time to get up there. IâÄôm not expecting to all of a sudden be like [All-American] Steph Price within this year. IâÄôm still young.âÄù

Since the Intrasquad meet, Kayfes has shown immeasurable improvement and has found a way to consistently fight off other runners and be among the top-five finishers on the team.

âÄúThe great thing about her is that sheâÄôs a fighter,âÄù assistant coach Sarah Hesser said. âÄúSheâÄôs been an awesome asset to the group and I think the sky is the limit to where she can go.âÄù