Gophers prepare for big overhaul

Minnesota’s second pack of runners will need to step up next year after losing seniors.

Betsy Helfand

This Sunday’s Rocky’s Run at Les Bolstad Golf Course will highlight significant pieces of the women’s cross country team’s future.

As top runners prepare for the NCAA Midwest Regionals, members of the team’s second group will have an opportunity to assert themselves.

Rocky’s Run is the last meet of the season for the second pack and serves as a chance for coaches to gauge progress from the Oz Memorial, the first meet of the season.

“We’ll definitely see who wants it next year, because if they take the race seriously and really want to do well, then that shows me, as a leader for next year, that these girls are ready,” redshirt sophomore Liz Berkholtz said.

Berkholtz is in the team’s top pack and will be one of the most experienced runners on the team next season. As one of the younger runners in the top group, Berkholtz has spent a lot of time with this year’s fifth-year seniors and said she looks up to them.

“I definitely think it was a blessing for me just to be involved in this group for the past two years and sticking my nose in there with them,” Berkholtz said.

Minnesota will graduate a deep fifth-year senior class after this season, including Laura Docherty, Maggie Bollig, Katie Moraczewski, Rachel Drake, Kelli Budd and others.

Gophers head coach Sarah Hopkins said the team went through a similar scenario in 2009. It graduated a majority of its top runners, and the current fifth-year senior class had to take over.

She said that group was able to learn the ropes before it was “thrust into the spotlight the next year as redshirt freshmen to take the reins of the program.”

And now, the cycle is close to repeating itself.

“The good thing is that the group that is going to hopefully come in and take over will have been here for three years instead of just one. So I think that will give them a leg up compared to this group that first year,” Hopkins said.  

Though the Gophers will be losing a talented group, Hopkins said the team takes pride in its depth. She said even though the team has had to rebuild in years past, it’s never fallen off the map.

“A lot of that is just because those younger kids, they learn and they grow … and then when they have an opening, they really sink their teeth into it,” Hopkins said.

Minnesota redshirt freshman Taylor Mikkalson said compared to last year, she’s seen “huge improvement” in the second pack, especially in the way they’ve been working together as a team.

Though the two packs don’t really run together in practice, Mikkalson said it’s helpful to see the top group.

“They just kind of help us because we can see them off in the distance, and that’s what we’re working toward,” Mikkalson said.