Earlier in October, Minnesota's women's cross country team traveled to Notre Dame, Indiana, for what head coach Sarah Hopkins referred to as the team's second important meet of the season.
The Gophers came out of the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational with higher expectations for the rest of the season. The team finished ninth at the meet, beating some Big Ten Conference and NCAA Midwest Regional opponents along the way.
"It’s always kind of motivating to know that we’re still kind of an upper-tier team in the Big Ten," Hopkins said in early October. "They’re proving that to themselves, to me and to the rest of the NCAA that we’re not going to be taken lightly."
The impressive performance at Notre Dame led to the Gophers jumping up to No. 18 in the national rankings the following week. Minnesota was previously ranked 29th in the country.
However, the Gophers did not have similar results this past weekend at the Nuttycombe Invitational in Madison, Wisconsin. The team finished 16th out of 36 teams and fifth among Big Ten teams competing at the meet, dropping Minnesota to 25th in the national rankings. While Minnesota's top three runners — Abby Kohut-Jackson, Jaycie Thomsen and Anastasia Korzenowski — all finished with personal records in the eight-kilometer race, Hopkins thought her team could have had a better overall result.
"I don’t think it was a bad day by any means but I certainly think we are capable of running better than that," Hopkins said. "We’ve just got to stay a little more consistent and trust ourselves in what we are capable of doing."
Now heading into championship season, Minnesota has a better idea of how they compare to the competition in the Big Ten and Midwest Region. The Gophers finished sixth at the Big Ten Championships and third at the NCAA Midwest Regional last season.
Hopkins thought Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin would all be at the top of the conference throughout the season. However, she said there will be plenty of other competitive teams in the Big Ten like Ohio State and Indiana.
"That cluster from fourth to seventh is all going to be very close together," Hopkins said. "I think we are certainly capable of being fourth. We just got to tweak a couple of things and be competitive."
Hopkins also said the next two meets could be better suited for the team's makeup and strategy. Because the next two meets have a smaller competition fields, Hopkins said it is not as important to have a runner at the front of the pack and more important to have multiple runners close together toward the top of the standings.
The Gophers will compete at the 2019 Big Ten Championships on Nov. 3 and the NCAA Midwest Regional on Nov. 15. Despite being confident heading into championship season, Thomsen said the Gophers know they need to continue working diligently these next few weeks to achieve their goals.
"We have to walk with a chip on our shoulders because nothing is a given at this point," Thomsen said. "So we kind of have to keep getting back to working hard if we want to get back to [the NCAA Championships] this year."