Amid a season of uncertainty, Bethany Hasz caps a long journey with Big Ten cross country title

After not knowing if there would be a cross country season this year, Bethany Hasz won the individual Big Ten championship in January, the second to do so in women’s program history.

Bethany Hasz runs in the Jack Johnson Women's Gold Race at the Roy Griak Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016 at Les Bolstad Golf Course.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Bethany Hasz runs in the Jack Johnson Women’s Gold Race at the Roy Griak Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016 at Les Bolstad Golf Course.

Brendan O'Brien

Minnesota’s Bethany Hasz won the individual title at the Big Ten championship meet for cross country a month ago, but the road to the championship was no easy feat.

As a senior in high school in 2016, Hasz and her twin sister, Megan Hasz, were set to come to Minnesota. Natives of Alexandria, Minnesota, it was the only visit the two made. After meeting head coach Sarah Hopkins and witnessing the team’s culture, Bethany knew she wanted to train with the Maroon and Gold.

Both sisters competed in cross country and track and field for the Gophers. In their freshman season, they were redshirted and ran unattached in track and field that spring but competed in cross country from the get-go. In the fall of 2016, Bethany finished 20th at the Big Ten championships.

After three seasons of watching Bethany and Megan compete, time forced Hopkins to make a decision: either let the sisters compete in one final season or redshirt them in cross country and let them train for the upcoming track season with hopes of stacking the deck for the 2020 cross country season.

Hopkins weighed the options with them both, and Bethany and Megan ultimately did not compete in the 2019 season with no knowledge of what was to come the following season. COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the 2020 cross country season in the fall.

“We were able to get in a really solid fall training and have a good track season following that,” Bethany said. “It was tough sitting out last year just watching our team compete and wanting to be with them and travel with them and then having the fall season canceled was pretty disappointing.”

“The uncertainty of [the season] was really stressful,” Hopkins added. “Obviously, we had second thoughts about whether we should have just raced them in 2019 because we would have had a pretty darn good team in the fall last year too. As things played out you have to let go of some of that stuff and say, ‘Nobody saw this coming.’ There’s lots of weird things that can happen over time.”

Luckily for the Gophers, the cross country season did start in the winter with the Big Ten championships at the end of January. However, as they balance training for cross country with track and field, Bethany and the team were forced to adjust in an unusual situation.

Minnesota fell just short of its team goal to win the conference title in cross country, but Bethany finished at the top of the leaderboard, only the second Big Ten title winner in program history on the women’s side. While the accomplishment is individual on the surface, Hopkins knows Bethany has put in the time and effort not only for her own success but also for the team’s success.

“She’s definitely a lead-by-example type. She does well at these meets not only for her but because she knows her team is relying on her to do well. It is a lot of team first for her,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins added that Bethany’s success is always beneficial for recruiting runners to the program after she is gone. In the meantime, Hopkins will continue coaching Bethany, as both the Hasz sisters have already committed to returning to Minnesota next season, using this season as a free year of eligibility.

“She’s super easy to coach, and that’s fun because she’s a very low-maintenance, low-ego, high-output kind of a kid,” Hopkins said. “She trusts what we do. She trusts that it’s going to get her where she wants to be, and she doesn’t spend a whole lot of time worrying about [training].”