Varpness proving to be a natural at cross country

by Derek Wetmore

Redshirt freshman Missa Varpness didnâÄôt run a cross country race until she was in college. One year later, sheâÄôs one of the teamâÄôs top runners. Varpness was a swimmer and middle-distance track runner in high school, but when head coach Gary Wilson saw her, he wanted her to run longer distances. As in, from 800 meters to 6,000. She decided to take him up, and began preparing for the new role the summer after graduating high school. In adjusting to the new role she may have âÄúoverran,âÄù Wilson said, and at training camp the teamâÄôs trainers found that what started as a minor pain in her shin was actually a stress fracture. So Varpness redshirted, though that may have happened anyway due to her lack of cross country background. It worked out well, Wilson said, because it gave her a year to learn the sport and be part of a large freshman class this season. âÄúSheâÄôs kind of the prototype of our team,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúWe get the kids that arenâÄôt necessarily high school All-Americans but the ones that will come in and work hard.âÄù Each year team members that arenâÄôt suiting up go to support the team at away meets. At last yearâÄôs Penn State meet, Varpness was one of the supporters who traveled and carried the Minnesota flag. In a meeting with Wilson after the meet, Varpness told him that the following year she had no intention of being a flag carrier. Wilson assured her that she wouldnâÄôt be; that sheâÄôd be running instead. âÄúThat was her showing me, âÄòI want to be a runner,âÄôâÄù Wilson said. The ascension from swimmer to flag bearer to cross country runner has gone surprisingly smooth. After also redshirting with the track team last spring, she has started off the fall with three top-three finishes in the GophersâÄô four races, and has been one of the top three Minnesota finishers in all of them. After getting recruited first and foremost for her track and field credentials âÄî she won a state championship in the 800 meters and four all-state awards âÄî sheâÄôs taken to the rigors of distance training and she said her body has adapted well. SheâÄôs been so successful in her distance running ventures this year, one has to question if sheâÄôs become more of a cross country athlete than track. âÄúI donâÄôt know anymore, honestly,âÄù Varpness said. âÄúI just really like running.âÄù She began her high school career at the 200, and gradually progressed to the 800, she said. âÄúIt kind of makes sense that the trend for me is: the older I get, more distance is better,âÄù she said. Both Varpness and her parents had reservations about the UniversityâÄôs size, since her freshman class was about the same size as her hometown of Montevideo. But she decided that sheâÄôd rather be a âÄúlittle fish in a big sea.âÄù âÄúWe just have such a family atmosphere that every time you need help thereâÄôs either someone thatâÄôs been through it or has advice to offer,âÄù Varpness said. Look no further than her times and finishes this year as evidence that the transition to the âÄúbig seaâÄù and the big races have gone swimmingly.