Women’s XC runs together, wins together

by Mark Heller

It might seem like an obvious concept, yet it is necessary and often forgotten in a world full of superstar athletes and big money.
The Gophers women’s cross country team will rely on teamwork in the Midwest Regional Championship on Nov. 14 in Wichita, Kan. For an automatic bid to the NCAA championships the following week, Minnesota must finish in the top two.
Anything less and the 17th-ranked Gophers will have to hope for an at-large bid.
“Coach (Gary Wilson) has stressed running as a team,” sophomore Deborah Hudelston said. “I think the key for us will be our number four through seven runners working together.”
In a sport where athletes run their own races and record individual times, how do runners work together?
“We try to run together and talk to each other,” sophomore Corrine Nimtz said. “People don’t realize how tough it is to be running that distance and finding yourself in the middle or the back. The easy thing to do is to give up. So we try to push each other.”
“It’s going to take all seven of us to race well as a unit if we want a chance to win,” sophomore Elaine Eggleston said. “If one of us isn’t running very well, then the rest of us need to pick each other up and take up some of the slack.”
The No. 17 ranking doesn’t mean Minnesota can just go through the motions and expect an NCAA bid to fall in their lap. They are up against some quality competition: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas, among others.
The Gophers will compete in Rocky’s Run at Les Bolstad Golf Course this weekend, but with regionals and the possibility of NCAA’s all in the next three weeks, coach Wilson won’t take any chances.
That should bode well for the team, which will have two weeks to prepare for the 5-kilometer race.
“Two weeks will help all of us,” Eggleston said. “Our top 10 runners won’t be running at Rocky’s, so it’s a chance to get us physically and mentally healthy. It’s very exhausting running in practice and competing every week.”
“We’ve increased the mileage this past week, and then we’ll taper it down next week,” said coach Wilson. “As a coach, the biggest mistake I can do now is to overwork them.”
For at least one newcomer to the squad, this will be more work than she bargained for.
“I certainly didn’t expect to make it this far individually,” said freshman Christine Harper. “I think there is some pressure on us, but it’s better for the team. Our goal was to make the NCAA tournament, and this is something we’ve been preparing for all season.”