Updated: Jan 13
The Gophers will be riding a fine line this fall as they look to improve upon their 29th place finish from NCAA's from a year ago. Led by the two Hasz twins, Minnesota has a phenomenal 1-2 punch, but will be looking for additional athletes to step up and fill the 3-4-5 slots. If the Gophers can round out their top five, they could push for a finish in the better half of the field at NCAA's.
Minnesota has one of the best duos in the country and it just so happens that they’re twins. Bethany and Megan Hasz are both entering their senior years at Minnesota and will be looking to make their mark on the cross country course this fall. Despite stellar marks and numerous All-Region honors, neither of the two have ever been an All-American in cross country or track.
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Bethany was the better of the two last fall, starting her season strong with a runner-up finish at Battle of Beantown and a home win at the Roy Griak Invitational. She continued to show well as the season progressed, finishing 5th at both Pre-Nationals and the BIG 10 Championships. After placing 8th at the NCAA Midwest regional, it appeared that she was well on her way towards earning her first All-American honors. However, she faltered at NCAA's and just missed out on that status, placing 49th overall.
This year on the track, she came agonizingly close once again, placing 10th in the 5000 meters at the Outdoor National Championships to come only two places short of that coveted All-American finish. Despite the near miss, Bethany had a fantastic track season which saw her set personal bests in the mile, 1500, and 5000 meters, where she ran an impressive 15:45 at the Stanford Invitational.
Megan Hasz has followed a very similar trajectory as her sister over the past three years. She has finished in the top 10 of the Midwest region numerous times and looked on pace to be top 40 at Nationals before ultimately landing short. She spent much of 2018 right behind her sister, placing 5th at Beantown, runner-up at Roy Griak, and 14th at Pre-Nationals. After a 10th place finish at the regional meet, Megan looked to be on track to push for an All-American finish at NCAA's, but struggled on the day and ended up placing 105th.
Despite the rough ending to cross country, she was able to bounce back for track and set personal bests in the mile, 5000, and 10,000 meters. She qualified for NCAA's in the 10k where she finished 20th overall in her first national meet on the track.
Both Bethany and Megan Hasz have the potential to finish as All-Americans this fall. They have both previously shown consistently strong performances, but seem to falter at the national meet. If they can change that trend, it would be huge for a Gophers team that will be heavily relying on their two seniors to provide low-sticks for the team.
Truthfully, much like the Notre Dame duo, their impact on the team score will be minimal at best if they make improvements during the regular season (Bethany more so than Megan). However, if the twins match expectations on the national stage, then Minnesota's chances of finishing the season as one of the best teams in the country jumps up drastically.
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After the Hasz twins, the Gophers do see a bit of a drop-off. Patty O’Brien, their third runner from 2018, has graduated and the #4 through #7 spots were constantly rotating last fall. Abby Kohut-Jackson looks to be one of the women who will score for the team this fall after consistently finishing inside the Gophers top seven during 2018. While she never had any breakthrough performances, Kohut-Jackson showed encouraging consistency for a sophomore and typically finished between 30th and 60th at meets, which is relatively solid given the competition that Minnesota often faced throughout the regular season. The biggest concern, however, are her performances at the regional and national level, placing 105th and 215th respectively. If the Gophers are to push for an NCAA berth, Kohut-Jackson (and the rest of the team) will need to better themselves in the postseason.
Along with Kohut-Jackson, Anastasia Korzenowski and Jaycie Thompson appear to be the most likely women to round out the scorers for Minnesota. Korzenowski started the season strong with a 3rd place run at the Oz Memorial, but after that struggled to finish higher than 60th in a race. Thompson was in a similar boat and only broke into the top 60 once after Oz, placing 17th at Roy Griak. Given that the two were only freshmen last fall, there is good reason to believe they can make solid improvements in 2019 and bolster the Gophers scoring group. The classic freshman to sophomore jump is a compelling argument as to why the Minnesota women could have a complete and legitimate top five this fall.
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If the Hasz twins run well, specifically at the NCAA Championships, then Minnesota will be able to get by despite having limited depth. However, that questionable depth could come back to hurt them at the regional and national meet if they aren't careful or consistent. Luckily, based off of last year's results, consistency shouldn't be a major red flag for the Gophers this fall.
Looking ahead, the Gophers should qualify for Nationals without too much of an issue as the Midwest region appears to be somewhat weaker than past years. Iowa State lost some talented seniors, along with Amanda Vestri transferring out, and will be relying heavily on Cailie Logue to carry the team.
While Oklahoma State appears to be the region favorite, the loss of NCAA champion Sinclaire Johnson could hinder them a bit. The early weeks of the season should provide a good glimpse into the capabilities of Minnesota. Keep an eye on their 3-4-5 runners as the season gets underway as they should be a good indicator of where Minnesota will land come November.