Docherty, Kayfes have company at top

Laura Docherty and Molly Kayfes aren’t the Gophers’ only top finishers.

Minnesota senior Laura Docherty finishes behind North Carolina State's Joanna Thompson in the women's Division I Roy Griak Invitational on Saturday at Les Bolstad Golf Course.

Ichigo Takikawa, Daily File Photo

Minnesota senior Laura Docherty finishes behind North Carolina State’s Joanna Thompson in the women’s Division I Roy Griak Invitational on Saturday at Les Bolstad Golf Course.

Betsy Helfand

It wasn’t a matter of who finished first or second for the Gophers last season — it was a matter of what order the two top runners finished.

Then-junior Laura Docherty and then-sophomore Molly Kayfes switched off placing first and second for Minnesota all last season.

In every race they competed in, the two were the team’s top finishers.

But this year, the pair has some company at the front of the pack.

Either Kayfes or Docherty has still led the team in each race this season, but seniors Katie Moraczewski and Maggie Bollig have thrust themselves into the top group.

Moraczewski placed second on the team at the Roy Griak Invitational, and Bollig finished second for the team at the SDSU Classic.

“It’s a great problem to have, to not know necessarily who your No. 1 kid is going to be,” head coach Sarah Hopkins said.

Kayfes said that this season, it’s been nice to have a bigger group in the front of the pack. She said she thinks the team has been working its way toward having more runners at the top.

That’s happened this year, particularly in the past couple of races.

“The other girls were not too far behind, but this year it’s even more compact,” Kayfes said. “We’re all four closer, but we’re all faster than we were last year, too.”

This logjam at the front of the pack gives the Gophers a sense of security in case a top runner has an off day in a race. If one runner doesn’t do well, it won’t cripple the whole team.

“It’s just nice knowing that if somebody starts to fade in that top group, then someone will come up and pick up the slack and kind of get everyone moving,” Bollig said.

Hopkins said the only teams she can think of during her time at Minnesota that have been this interchangeable were those that won Big Ten titles. One of the constant markers of this program is its depth, she said.

And that type of depth pushes runners.

“In the top group, there’s always going to be pressure because we know that somebody could easily come up in the rankings and take [our] place,” Bollig said.

As far as the way her team’s top four has shaken out, Hopkins said it hasn’t been a huge surprise, but it’s nice to see the runners competing to their full potential.

She said Moraczewski had been in the team’s top three before but was a little bit banged up at the end of last season.

Bollig finished third for Minnesota at the NCAA championships last season, and Hopkins said she showed “some sparks that she could be up as far as our No. 2 or 3 kid.”

In practice, Hopkins said the Gophers’ top pack usually finishes with between eight and 10 people running together. That group includes the team’s top four runners.

That packing in practice has been beneficial for the group on race day, as well, because the runners build from each other.

“In those moments when you do start to hurt … you know that, ‘Hey, I can stay with this person in practice. I can stay with them during the race, and we’re going to feed off of each other’s energy,’” Hopkins said.

In the team’s last race, Kayfes said, the top four runners took turns leading the pack.

“We all just knew, ‘OK, let’s just stick with them.’ … And then I feel like we do that, and all of a sudden, somebody else feels good, and then the next person just takes the lead,” she said. “We just need to make sure that we hold ourselves and each other accountable to stick with each other.”