Gophers show off depth in fall season

Despite having two All-Big Ten Team honorees, Minnesota’s team wouldn’t thrive without a strong group of runners behind them.

Molly Eastman crosses the finish line at the Roy Griak Invitational at Les Bolstad Golf Course on Saturday, Sept. 29.

Tony Saunders

Molly Eastman crosses the finish line at the Roy Griak Invitational at Les Bolstad Golf Course on Saturday, Sept. 29.

Babatunde Jinadu

Six captains have provided the Minnesota women’s cross country team with valuable leadership this season. Among these leaders, first-year captain and fifth-year senior Molly Eastman has been especially impactful.

“She’s been having an awesome year. I think she, being a fifth-year, has definitely gone through this quite a few times. It’s really cool seeing her improve so much this year,” said teammate Abby Kohut-Jackson. “From my perspective, it looks like she’s been able to really just step up into a leadership role as a captain.”

Kohut-Jackson has consistently been a contributor in 2018 herself. The team has dominant athletes in Megan and Bethany Hasz; however, behind these sisters the roles of the remainder of Minnesota’s runners has been less clear.

On any given day, it is up in the air as to which runners on the team finish between third and ninth place.

Upperclassmen like Kohut-Jackson and Eastman have been depended on to step up and take charge. For instance, Kohut-Jackson finished fourth among the Gophers at the Big Ten Championships meet after finishing eighth among them just two races prior at the Roy Griak Invitational. Through it all, the girls have been exceptionally supportive of one another.

“I was super excited to see her up there in fourth place at Big Tens. That was really exciting, she really had a break-through race,” Eastman said. “I’m excited to see how that helps our team moving forward into regionals, because we do have such a tight pack between the third and about seventh runners. It’s kind of anyone’s game, and it was really cool to see her step up in that race.”

Both Eastman and Kohut-Jackson have been important for their team’s success. However, athletes competing in their roles can often receive less recognition because the middle of the pack can be overlooked.

“I think we’ve kind of shown that we have a good intermixing of our three through 10 spots. It’s sort of like we can all be together, we can all be mixed around — there’s no order of who needs to be before or after who,” Kohut-Jackson said. “This year is a little bit of a ‘see what happens and do our best’ kind of year, but I think we’re in a pretty good spot going into the end of the season.”

Minnesota will compete at the NCAA Midwest Regional meet next, on Friday at 11 a.m.

“Every meet, you can see them getting closer and closer. I think going into the regional they have a good team dynamic and team bond,” said women’s team head coach Sarah Hopkins. “Molly and Abby have done a great job this year, we’ve had a lot of interchangeable parts. … You can be a decent team with a solid one and two, but you can’t be a great team without a three, four and five, and that’s what those guys really provide for us.”