Minnesota ready for ninth straight NCAA championship race

The Gophers have built a culture of success over the years on the team.

Minnesotas Kelli Budd runs in the Roy Griak Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, at Les Bolstad Golf Course.

Image by Ichigo Takikawa, Daily File Photo

Minnesota’s Kelli Budd runs in the Roy Griak Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, at Les Bolstad Golf Course.

by Betsy Helfand

The Gophers will line up at the NCAA championships for the ninth year in a row Saturday.

That’s a testament to the way longtime head coach Gary Wilson and his successor, current head coach Sarah Hopkins, have built the program.

In college sports, where athletes come and go every four to five years, the feat is even more impressive.

“With collegiate kids … anytime a streak goes longer than four years, I think it [says] a lot about the foundation of the program,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins said the Gophers have tried to create a system that works with many different groups.

“It’s been pretty cool that even though our class was considered kind of a building group initially, we’ve been able … to continue to go to nationals year after year,” senior Kelli Budd said.

Budd said she thinks the coaches and how they recruit have been a big part of the team’s success.

“They’re not always looking for those top kids out of high school,” Budd said. “They’ve really been able to develop everyone year after year.”

Hopkins said the trend of success continues because younger kids watch older classes succeed.

This year’s particular fifth-year senior class is deep and has a wealth of experience.

Minnesota earned an automatic bid to the championships with a second-place finish at last weekend’s NCAA Midwest

The team enters the weekend 16th in the nation, and senior Laura Docherty said it definitely wants to go for a top-15

The Gophers finished 22nd overall last year.

Docherty said the team got a good feel for where it could finish at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational. Minnesota finished that race eighth overall, ahead of numerous teams ranked ahead of it.

“We really just want to stick our noses in there and keep on that upward movement that we’ve been going with this season,” Docherty said.

Hopkins said she thinks nationals are a little less pressure-packed for the runners.

She said she has been meeting with all the girls this week and has told them that she wants them to “race the race that they can be proud of.”

“If they walk away from a race that they ran their way,” Hopkins said, “no matter what the result is, they’re going to be happy.”