The status of fall collegiate sports is still up in the air, but the Minnesota women's cross country team is poised for a successful 2020 season, if it is to take place.
Last season, the Gophers finished 28th out of 31 at the NCAA Championship with a seventh place finish in the Big Ten. The Gophers expect to see better results in 2020 with key runners returning to competition and several others benefiting from more experience and training.
Sisters Megan and Bethany Hasz have been two of the top runners in Minnesota's cross country program over the past few years but redshirted in 2019 in preparation for the upcoming track season. With the redshirt in cross country, the two will be able to compete in both cross country and track in their fifth and final year at Minnesota. Without the redshirts in 2019, they would only have been eligible to compete in track.
In the absence of the Hasz twins, several runners stepped up to lead the Gophers back to the NCAA Championship meet, including redshirt sophomores Anastasia Korzenowski and Jaycie Thomsen and redshirt junior Abby Kohut-Jackson. Korzenowski was the Gophers' lead runner throughout most of 2019, and Kohut-Jackson was the team's top finisher at the championship.
With younger runners finding their footing and the Hasz twins set to return, the Gophers believe they are in line to compete for the Big Ten title and a high finish at the NCAA Championship. The last time the women's team won the Big Ten was in 2008 and the program's highest finish at the championship meet was ninth in 2005. With this team poised for similar success, the Gophers are continuing to hold out hope for a fall season.
"Obviously, we all are holding our breath because it could all go up in smoke pretty quick, which makes me want to vomit every time I think about it — more so for [the team] than anything," head coach Sarah Hopkins said. "But I do think that is super helpful knowing that the fall can be pretty exciting. I think that can help carry through these times too because everyone knows there is a pretty big prize at the end of this."
Despite Hopkins' desire to fly under the radar next season, the Gophers' potential for success is not going unnoticed by other teams across the country. At the NCAA indoor track and field championships, Lance Harter, the head coach of Arkansas' women's cross country team, told Hopkins he expects the Gophers to be a competitive team in 2020. Arkansas won the women's cross country national championship last fall.
No one knows what will happen in the 2020 season, but the Gophers are hoping it can continue as scheduled, given the time and effort put in to reach this point, which Hopkins referred to as a three-year process. While they would rather be finishing up the track season now, Hopkins said this is a good time for runners to recover and train on their own time if they so choose. For now, redshirt sophomore Sophie Schmitz said the team will be ready for the season.
"I think I speak for everyone when I say this makes us hungrier for sure to come back, and we're going to appreciate everything so much more," Schmitz said. "I think the fall, if we have it, we're going to be really strong, and we have a lot of determined and motivated girls, and I think that's the power of our team."