The women’s cross country season is only two events in, but junior Laura Docherty has established herself as the Gophers’ top runner after winning both of them.
Granted, one race was an intrasquad meet, which she ran against her Gophers teammates, and the second was the Oz Memorial against second-tier opponents last weekend.
But Docherty improved her Oz time by more than a minute from last year, finishing the six-kilometer race in 21 minutes, 31 seconds.
The fact that Docherty is running collegiately is no surprise — it’s in her blood. Her parents Jim and Bev both ran for Iowa, and her sister and brother are on the cross country teams at Iowa and Loyola, respectively.
With a pedigree like hers, one might think Laura Docherty was steered toward running by her parents. But Docherty said she likes the sport for a different reason.
“I say that I’m too uncoordinated to do any other sport,” Docherty said. “So I stick with running, even though I fell the other week.”
With both of her parents and sister running for Iowa, Docherty’s decision to run at Minnesota surprised her.
“I actually did not want to go to Minnesota,” Docherty said. “My plan was to not look anywhere in Minnesota.”
A visit with head coach Gary Wilson changed that plan.
“You can’t really say no to Wilson; He’s the best,” Docherty said. “I actually had a good connection and felt welcome here.”
Docherty said there was no recruitment ploy by her parents to push her toward Iowa but added that she still “loves Iowa” and is irked by the “Who hates Iowa?” student section chant.
Wilson has known Jim Docherty since the 1980s and Bev since her college days when Wilson was a competing coach at Wisconsin-La Crosse. Wilson said he wasn’t worried about getting their daughter to join his team.
“I said, ‘Why would you want to go to a two-year school like your parents did?’” Wilson said. “She looked at Iowa, but it just wasn’t a match.”
Wilson said his wife babysat Laura Docherty when she was young and said that could have helped create a natural connection between the two families.
Wilson said Docherty wasn’t a natural talent coming into college but added that he has been very impressed with her progression since her redshirt freshman season.
“You tell that kid to jump [and] she’ll say, ‘How high, and when do I start?’” Wilson said. “That’s the kind of kid she is — she’s just very, very, very coachable, no drama, no head-games, even keel.”
Docherty finished sixth on the team at the NCAA championships and said she gained more confidence during last year’s track and field season.
She finished fourth in the 10,000-meter run at the Big Ten Outdoor Track and Field Championships in May. Earlier in the outdoor track season, she posted the fifth-best time in school history in the 10,000.
Even with Docherty’s newfound confidence and two early-season victories, it may be too early to declare her the top runner on this year’s balanced squad.
“Nobody expects anyone to be anywhere — I mean we expect [the runners] to be fast, but in no certain order,” Docherty said. “I think it pushes everyone — every workout, we’re all working together because it doesn’t matter who’s up in front as long as we’re all working hard.”
Wilson, however, pointed out the disadvantages of “pack running” and said that having a clear-cut No. 1 could be beneficial to the team.
“If … people that should be going are waiting and people that should be waiting a little bit are going, then we’re going to have a problem,” Wilson said. “Who knows if she’ll always be our No. 1 runner this year because there’s a lot of kids that are coming behind her.
“Right now, it is what it is,” he said. “She’s the No. 1 kid right now.”