After surgery, redshirt, Brown bounces back

Emily Brown might have made an immediate impact on Minnesota’s women’s cross country team last season had it not been for an extra bone in her foot.

Coming off a second-place finish in Wisconsin’s state high school cross country meet, she was part of the Gophers’ big recruiting class in 2002. However, after a training injury, Brown needed surgery to remove the bone, causing her to redshirt in the fall.

This year, minus one pesky navicular bone, Brown has a little more spring in her step. She won the team’s intraquad meet Saturday and got a nice taste of what it feels like to compete once again.

“I didn’t expect to win. I was just happy to finally race again,” Brown said. “I still don’t even know what good time is for the 5K or 6K.”

Brown will find out soon enough. This weekend the Gophers host the Oz Memorial Run. It will be her first official run as a college athlete.

Brown took a while to find her niche as a runner at Nathan Hale High School in West Allis, Wis. As a ninth-grader, Brown’s friends persuaded her to play volleyball, where she only made the second freshman team. That winter she played basketball, which did not satisfy her either. In the spring, she went out for the track team, where she hoped to be a sprinter.

Brown lasted one practice with the sprinters before she was pulled out by the team’s distance coach.

“He had been recruiting me for track since sixth grade, when he recorded our times in the mile run,” Brown said. “He wouldn’t let me be a sprinter.”

For the next three years, Brown concentrated on cross country and track. During her junior season, Brown won her first race, but it

wasn’t until her senior season that people really began to take notice. Huskies’ coach Doug Jordan, who ran for Minnesota coach Gary Wilson at University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, talked to Wilson early in Brown’s senior year.

“Brown finished 46th in state her junior year, but (Jordan) called me and said, ‘I tell you, this kid is going to be good,’ ” Wilson said.

Her second-place finish that fall was enough to prompt Wilson to visit West Allis.

“We talked, and my dad and I both liked him, so I visited the school that week and made my decision.” Brown said. “I never visited or applied to any other schools.”

While training for her senior track season, Brown injured her foot. She still competed in two meets, including the sectional meet where she participated in the mile, earning team points toward the overall win.

Following that success, sitting out her first season at Minnesota was hard for Brown, especially with the runners recruited with her, such as Carly Emil and Jen Hess, excelling. The two were honored by their teammates as co-rookies of the year last season.

“I had never raced against any of them before,” Brown said. “It made me wonder whether I’d be able to race with them (after returning), or if they’d be the ones winning all the meets.”

Winning the intrasquad was a confidence booster for Brown. But she still keeps it all in perspective.

“We know that there might be a bunch of us that make the traveling team one week and barely miss it the next week,” Brown said. “Our team decided that the best thing we can do is push each other to work as a team instead of only racing good enough to make the spot.”

Vasiljeva to have surgery

Minnesota’s athletics department announced Wednesday that senior runner Darja Vasiljeva will redshirt both the 2003 cross country and 2004 track seasons.

Vasiljeva, the Gophers’ top finisher in every women’s cross country meet last season, has been nursing a hamstring injury and will undergo surgery Oct. 3.

Vasiljeva is a three-time letter winner in each sport and finished 87th at last season’s NCAA cross country championship. She is expected to return next year for her final cross country and track seasons.