It’s hard to imagine Molly Kayfes — one of the most consistent runners on the Gophers this season — had never run cross country prior to her arrival at the University of Minnesota.
One year ago, Kayfes was an incoming freshman with little to no intentions of competing as an intercollegiate athlete.
“It kind of crossed my mind during the summer because I knew I liked to run, but I didn’t know,” she said.
Kayfes, a native of Maple Grove, Minn., has played soccer for 14 years, including all four years of high school, and ran track during her freshman and sophomore years.
She never had the opportunity to run cross country because it always conflicted with her soccer schedule in the fall.
“I was planning on doing intramurals for sure,” Kayfes said. “But then I thought maybe I want something more. I missed the [competition] and the team and everything.
“I think less than a month into school I was like, ‘I need a sport. It’s just not the same without one.’”
Kayfes said she first emailed women’s track and field head coach Matt Bingle about walking on the team, and waited two weeks, but didn’t hear back.
She emailed him again and Bingle referred her to women’s head cross country coach Gary Wilson, who was hesitant at first, to say the least.
“I didn’t let her come out,” Wilson said. “She came into my office and said, ‘I’m going to walk on.’ I said, ‘No, you’re not. You’re going to quit on me.’
“She said, ‘I’m not quitting.’ I said, ‘You’ll quit. I don’t trust you. I don’t want you here.’
“She came back the next week and the next week and the next week and finally after about 10 weeks of bothering me she started coming to practice to watch and then all of a sudden I went, ‘Oh boy. This kid’s the real deal.’”
Still, Wilson was uncertain of what to expect, as many walk-on athletes in the past have completed the walk-on process and quit the team shortly after.
“I didn’t start until the indoor track season of last year and he would still say, ‘I don’t trust you’ and slowly as it started progressing and realized I wasn’t going anywhere, he started to trust me more,” Kayfes said. “I think that is what he was most worried about.”
Fast-forward to her first cross country campaign and Kayfes has really started to mature. She said she’s excited about the prospect of having four years of eligibility remaining.
She finished 10th in her first career cross country competition at the Intrasquad Meet on Sept. 3.
“In our first meet I was like, ‘What did I get myself into?’” Kayfes said. “I got 10th in that and was kind of disappointed in myself because I knew I could do better. In the next meet I knew I needed to do better.
“I learned from that first meet for sure. I’ve learned it takes time to get up there. I’m not expecting to all of a sudden be like [All-American] Steph Price within this year. I’m still young.”
Since the Intrasquad meet, Kayfes has shown immeasurable improvement and has found a way to consistently fight off other runners and be among the top-five finishers on the team.
“The great thing about her is that she’s a fighter,” assistant coach Sarah Hesser said. “She’s been an awesome asset to the group and I think the sky is the limit to where she can go.”
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