Urick takes opportunity to step up

Redshirt junior Kaila Urick is having a breakout year for Minnesota.

Betsy Helfand

Redshirt junior Kaila Urick didn’t crack the ranks of the Gophers’ top seven runners last year. But after a breakout track season last spring, Urick has positioned herself as one of the top runners on the cross country team.

“All last year, she just got better every season,” head coach Sarah Hopkins said, noting that Urick improved from the cross country to indoor track to outdoor track seasons. “I really think that gave her confidence and momentum going into the fall.”

Through the first few meets, that momentum has helped Urick become one of the team’s top performers.

Urick led the Gophers at last weekend’s Roy Griak Invitational, finishing 25th overall in a field of nearly 400 runners.

She said she wanted to finish in the top 25, a goal she accomplished spot-on.

“I think it was a good performance. I’d say it’s a good indicator [that] the training I put in this summer is paying off, but it’s still only September, and our season goes until the end of November,” she said.

Aside from the Griak, she also finished second among her teammates and fifth overall at the BYU Autumn Classic and recorded a third-place finish at the team’s intrasquad meet.

When the experienced fifth-year senior class graduated in May, a window of opportunity opened.

Hopkins said the redshirt juniors knew it would then be time to assert themselves.

“I think she’s one that’s definitely taken that role seriously and from a leadership perspective, from just [a] training and racing perspective, the door opened, and I think she’s been one who has run through it,” Hopkins said.

Urick said she focused on bumping up her mileage during the summer in anticipation of the season.

Teammate Kate Bucknam said Urick had to wake up early during the summer to get her miles in because she had to work.

The extra miles in the early mornings appear to have paid off.

“She saw [the season] as … ‘I have an opportunity here to be in the top three,’ and I think she just took advantage of that,” Bucknam said.

Her steady dose of improvement hasn’t been lost on her coach.

“She’s a kid that has paid her dues and gotten better every year, and that’s kind of what this program is built on … kids that keep getting better and keep progressing, and that’s where she’s at right now,” Hopkins said.

Urick is one of two runners who have been in the team’s top three in every race she’s competed in this season. And though the season is still young, Urick has confidence from the Griak to build on.

“A lot of sport is all about confidence and where you see yourself, and I think she [has] started to see herself as more of an elite kid,” Hopkins said.