It’s easy to overlook Elaine Eggleston.
She’s not a dominant cross country runner, and unlike teammates Minna Haronoja and Rasa Michniovaite, she’s not from a foreign country.
She’s from Roseville in exotic Minnesota.
“If someone comes from Lithuania (Michniovaite), that’s unique,” coach Gary Wilson said. “Somebody that close to the University, from Roseville, people wonder how good can you be? It’s not that far away.”
But without her, the Gophers would be in rough shape heading into the NCAA championships today.
“Elaine is just one of those kids, she’s a Steady Freddy,” coach Gary Wilson said. “It’s like in football, everybody writes about Jeff George but the guys that block are just as important.”
The high school all-stater came to Minnesota for several reasons, with academics and a concern for her quality of life high among them.
“Mainly, it was Wilson’s philosophy on running,” Eggleston said. “I heard horror stories of Division-I coaches running athletes hurt and they pretty much kill you in that first year of practice.
“His philosophy is more laid-back, more about life. Running is a metaphor for life. There’s the good days and the bad.”
While Eggleston has been consistent — she’s finished as Minnesota’s second- or third-place runner in almost every race this year — she hasn’t had a real breakout effort.
That may change today. Eggleston says she’s shooting for a top-15 finish, a big accomplishment for her.
Wilson says her biggest contribution comes in the form of her common sense.
“Her freshman year, we went to eat and everybody orders pasta,” Wilson said. “Not Elaine. She gets a hamburger and fries. That’s when I said ‘Kid, you and I are gonna get along just fine.’ She keeps it in perspective.”
Eggleston doesn’t try and put a concrete number on where she wants to finish at today’s NCAA race. She knows that she can plan all she wants, but it won’t necessarily do her any good.
“I try not to think of that too much,” Eggleston said. “I try to be there and do what I can.”
Things have been tough for the team this year for the underachieving Gophers. It’s not that any one runner is slacking, but the entire team’s results are off just a little.
Eggleston — never one to hide what’s on her mind — says the runners have noticed Wilson’s concern.
“I think Wilson realizes he has a very good team,” Eggleston said. “He’s nervous and we notice it. The workouts are a little different and we feel the pressure.”
Men’s cross country
Hot off a win at the NCAA District V race a week ago, you might think Minnesota would have high hopes.
While the Gophers aren’t negative, they’re certainly not thinking about winning a title.
“Basically, we want to do better than last year,” senior Josh Brang said. “Movement, even if it’s up or down, would be good.”
Minnesota finished 24th last year and 18th in 1997. After a slow start this season, the Gophers seem to be surging. They finished third at the Big Ten championships and are now 18th in the national poll.
Seems like an awfully late start.
“I think we planned it that way,” sophomore Andrew McKessock said. “We emphasized hard work early this year. In the past we emphasized Big Tens. This year we focused on the national championships.”
The race takes place today in Bloomington, Ind., and the team knows what to expect.
It’s the third consecutive year Minnesota will run the NCAA championship race, and the Gophers have three seniors who’ve competed in every one.
“It’ll be the hardest race of our lives,” Brang said. “For me, (Jeremy) Polson, and (Eric) Pierce, it’s the last cross country race of our careers. We’ve been running since seventh grade and now there’s just one race left.”
Jim Schortemeyer is the sports editor and welcomes comments at [email protected]