Pressure eludes Gophers at NCAAs

Minnesota finished 27th out of 31 teams at last year’s national meet.

Drew Claussen

Minnesota’s women’s cross country team will end its season this weekend, regardless of where the team finishes at the NCAA championships.

That’s the reason assistant coach Sarah Hesser said the season’s final meet is so enjoyable.

“There’s nothing to qualify for after this,” Hesser said. “In that way, even though it’s the national meet, it’s a little less pressure filled than [the NCAA] regional to get there.”

Hesser said she and head coach Gary Wilson challenged the team to finish in second place at last week’s NCAA regional in Springfield, Mo.

Minnesota finished third, just one point behind Oklahoma State.

“I think we were all mentally ready,” sophomore Molly Kayfes said. “We had a good team vibe going. … We just all knew what we had to do.”

Hesser said the number of elite teams at the NCAA championships slightly tempers expectations from the coaches.

She said that the field is basically split into two groups with 15 to 18 teams that are slated to finish in the top group and 15 to 17 teams that will likely finish in the bottom. The Gophers are in the latter group, and Hesser said that she would be satisfied with a finish in the upper teens.

“The number 19 just sounds better than 21,” Hesser said.

Minnesota finished 27th out of 31 teams last year at the national meet.

Even though there won’t be an abundance of pressure from the coaching staff, each runner is putting pressure on herself.

“I think it’s just the mind of a runner,” Ashlie Decker said. “We’ve always got high expectations and always want to get more.

“I think it just shows how much we know what we can do.”

Advancing past the regional meet means the Gophers extended Wilson’s career another week. Hesser will take the keys to the program when Wilson retires after this season.

“The night before regionals, he said that it would be great [to qualify] to work with us one more week,” Kayfes said. “That definitely was in … the team’s head as we were racing.”

Experience aided Minnesota in the Big Ten championships and the NCAA regional.

Besides Liz Berkholtz, who redshirted last season, everyone else running for Minnesota this week has NCAA regional and championship experience.

“They’ve all been there before now,” Hesser said. “That’s a huge thing to have in their back pocket — that this isn’t going to be a new experience for them.”