The Steph Price story: from walk-on to All-American

Price says she never expected to have this type of success at the college level.

Dane Mizutani

ItâÄôs not often the most talented athlete on a teamâÄôs roster has to wait until their final year of eligibility to earn a scholarship.

Gophers cross country All-American Steph Price is a part of that minority.

Price didnâÄôt run cross country until her senior season of high school, and she was a walk-on in her first season with Minnesota in 2008. Three years later, she is the teamâÄôs top runner, and fresh off a sixth-place finish at the NCAA midwest regional.

She said her success with the Gophers has been more than she could have ever dreamed.

In fact, it was almost nothing more than a dream.

Price said she was ready to give up running after her senior year in high school. Minnesota head coach Gary Wilson is glad she didnâÄôt.

âÄúI was already planning on going to the University of Minnesota for school,âÄù Price said, âÄúand my high school coach knew coach Wilson somewhat and knew that he took walk-ons, so he got me in contact with [Wilson], and it was kind of just a split-second decision. I decided to walk-on and didnâÄôt really think much of it.âÄù

Despite being a walk-on, Price earned a spot as a participant in her first meet at the Oz Memorial. Two weeks later, she had improved her 6-kilometer time by 50 seconds.

It was then that Wilson realized he had a special runner on his hands.

âÄúWe ended up running her [in her freshman season], which we shouldnâÄôt have done,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúAll of a sudden at about the third meet in I said to [assistant] coach Hesser âÄî and I bet I said it 10 times during the season âÄî we have made a mistake by running this kid because you could just tell she was going to be good.âÄù

Because they decided to run Price in her first year rather than use a redshirt, she lost a valuable year of eligibility, which could have contributed to her growth.  

Nonetheless, Price steadily improved.

She was named the GophersâÄô Freshman of the Year in her first season, an All-Midwest Region selection in her sophomore campaign and an All-American last year.

She will repeat as an All-American in 2011 if she finishes 40th or better at the NCAA championships Nov. 21.

âÄúI think growth was somewhat gradual for me âÄî even coming in as a freshman I just expected to be someone on the team,âÄù Price said. âÄúI just kept getting better and better, and it wasnâÄôt even until last year when I was an All-American that it kind of hit me.âÄù

She didnâÄôt reach the top level by accident. As a freshman, she was an impatient student-athlete, something Wilson said sheâÄôs improved.

 âÄúSheâÄôs one of these kids that wants to be really good, and weâÄôve had to tell her that itâÄôs going to happen, but it doesnâÄôt happen just by doing some magic workout,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúIt takes time, it takes focus and doing things the right way, and sheâÄôs done those things.âÄù

Price has trusted WilsonâÄôs process, but admitted it wasnâÄôt easy at times because she couldnâÄôt see immediate results.

âÄúI think that process is really hard to trust in until youâÄôve gone through it, and then you look back and try to think, âÄòWhat did I do that really set me apart?âÄôâÄù*** Price said. âÄúItâÄôs not any one special thing. ItâÄôs just all those little things that add up.âÄù

She has followed up her junior All-American season with a successful senior season to date.

Price placed fifth at the Roy Griak Invitational and at the Big Ten championships and sixth at the NCAA midwest regional Nov. 12.

On Sunday, the Gophers received an at-large bid to the NCAA championships, where Price will headline the scoring group for the second year in a row.

She placed 31st at the NCAA championships last year, but said Monday she thinks she has the capability to be a top-15 finisher this year.

Regardless of her finish, Nov. 21 will close a chapter in PriceâÄôs life, as it will be her last cross country meet with Minnesota.

âÄúItâÄôs been amazing âÄî I never in my mind thought IâÄôm going to be an All-American or IâÄôm going to be one of the top runners in such a prestigious program,âÄù Price said. âÄúI wouldnâÄôt trade it in for anything. ThereâÄôs not a day that IâÄôm not glad that I decided to walk on here and itâÄôs been such a great experience.

IâÄôve exceeded any goals that I could have ever dreamed of achieving.âÄù