Gophers develop redshirt sophomore class

2012 Griak Cross Country Race

Photo courtesy of Christopher Mitchell

2012 Griak Cross Country Race

Betsy Helfand

A common saying among athletes is “take it one day at a time.”

And while the Gophers women’s cross country squad is sticking with that adage and focusing on short-term success, it’s also taking steps to secure its future.

The current senior class has 12 runners — including many of the team’s top finishers — and there are only six juniors on the roster.

That has left the deep redshirt sophomore class aware of the need to step into a leadership role moving forward.

“I told them it’s going to be up to them if this team continues to be a national-caliber team … or if we miss a beat,” head coach Sarah Hopkins said of the 13 runners in her redshirt sophomore class.

Sophomore Becca Dyson was one of those runners.

“That’s obviously the intimidation factor — the thing that’s hanging over us for next year [is] knowing that we’re losing a lot of people,” she said.

Dyson said Hopkins encouraged the redshirt sophomores to consider themselves “future leaders-in-training.”

Hopkins said three or four runners have already started to assert themselves in the top group.

In the team’s first two meets of the season — the Intrasquad 5K Meet and the Oz Memorial — redshirt sophomores Liz Berkholtz and Dyson each posted a fourth- and fifth-place finish.

Berkholtz also finished seventh for the Gophers last year at the NCAA championships and competed for the team at the NCAA Midwest Regional and Big Ten championships.

Dyson was an alternate for the three meets.

 “My class got to see two of their grade make it on to that next level,” Berkholtz said. “I could just see the fire in their eyes that they wanted that same thing too.”

Aside from its top performers, there are still more runners in the class who haven’t asserted themselves yet, said Hopkins.

“They have all the tools they need at this point,” Hopkins said. “Now the hardest part is seeing themselves as Big Ten-caliber, national-caliber athletes. And it’s really hard to see yourself that way if you haven’t done it yet.”

For now, the class is learning what it can from the fifth-year seniors while they’re still around.

Kaila Urick, a redshirt sophomore, said the seniors are really smart about working out and knowing when to push themselves. She said the senior class has also taught the athletes that they’re not always going to have a perfect day.

Even with a talented, veteran senior class, redshirt sophomore Kate Bucknam said her class needs to start taking a more active leadership role on the team.

“It’s easy to be overlooked right now just because [the seniors] are really good, but next year they are going to be gone,” she said. “It’s going to be us, so we really need to start mentally, physically and emotionally preparing for that.”