Swenson will coach as student assistant next year

Derek Wetmore

ItâÄôs evident just by looking at the womenâÄôs team roster that senior Nikki Swenson is already a leader of the squad chock-full of freshmen. Next year, however, the runner who head coach Gary Wilson calls âÄúthe mother henâÄù will ascend a rung up the leadership ladder, from veteran runner to student assistant coach. She hopes that itâÄôs the kick start to her coaching career. âÄúWeâÄôve kind of watched her,âÄù Wilson, who is in his 26th year of coaching, said. âÄúDown the road, IâÄôm not going to be here, so for the last three years or so weâÄôve been watching to see who might be the heir apparent to [current volunteer assistant coach] Sarah Hesser.âÄù When pressed, he added: âÄúI know thatâÄôll be her. âÄúSheâÄôs smart, sheâÄôs perceptive and she knows the middle-distances inside and out,âÄù he said. When SwensonâÄôs running career began at Minnesota, she was among a big class of freshmen, but at the time, the team had plenty of upperclassmen. Swenson cracked the rosterâÄôs top-nine early on and earned the Gophers Freshman of the Year award. Wilson said Swenson, a second-year captain, has âÄúbeen through the wars,âÄù so she is an ideal candidate to lead the team in a season like this. Swenson has been a part of two Big Ten championship teams in her time here, and doesnâÄôt see the teamâÄôs youth preventing it from getting another. âÄúOur motto this year is to surprise people,âÄù Swenson said. âÄúWhy would you have your goal set for second place, you know?âÄù Having had that kind of success in the past, Swenson wasnâÄôt above confronting younger runners when she felt they werenâÄôt conforming to the teamâÄôs ideals. Following the teamâÄôs performance at the Roy Griak Invitational, Swenson gathered the other captains and sat the entire team down to let them know all of the little behavioral things they did wrong prior to the race. It was a stern talking, but the young athletes respect each of the captains, Wilson said. He credited that meeting as one of the primary reasons the team performed so well on the road at the pre-NCAA meet last weekend. It is leadership ability like that that has Swenson primed and well-suited for a coachâÄôs role Wilson said. This is SwensonâÄôs final season of eligibility for cross country, and in the spring, she will cap her career with her final season of track and field as well. She intends to take classes next fall to finish her kinesiology major in exercise physiology. She said she intends to do some coaching after graduation, and itâÄôs that fall when her career will officially begin. âÄúShe keeps people grounded and calm. SheâÄôs a very steadying presence,âÄù Wilson said of his future assistant. For the time being, Swenson said sheâÄôs focused on being a cross country student-athlete on a team with aspirations of a Big Ten title. But with coaching in her not-so-distant future, Swenson is getting hands-on experience leading a team with an abundance of youth.