Big 10 XC champ Bethany Hasz is crushing it this year during Covid-19

By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2021 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

(18-Feb) — With quiet determination and classic Midwestern grit, Bethany Hasz of the University of Minnesota has methodically climbed through the ranks of distance runners in the NCAA’s Big Ten Conference to reach its top echelon this year.  The 23 year-old from Alexandria, Minn., who on January 30, won the individual Big Ten cross country title, is one of only six NCAA women to break nine minutes for 3000m this indoor season, and one of just ten to break 16 minutes for 5000m.  Now preparing for her conference indoor championships at the end of February, she is undefeated in four winter race appearances, three on the indoor oval and one on the turf.  Hasz, whose twin sister Megan also competes for Minnesota, isn’t getting ahead of herself.

“One of Bethany’s biggest gifts is she can keep very emotionally even-keeled,” said her coach Sarah Hopkins on a Zoom call with Race Results Weekly yesterday.  “Not letting the highs get too high, and there’s been a lot of highs.  Not a lot of lows, but when there are just kind of shrug it off and move on to the next thing.”  She added: “Very low ego, high output, I’d say.”

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Since she began running for Coach Hopkins (whom she affectionately calls “Hop”) in the fall of 2016, Hasz has never faced such an unusual winter season, forced to shift her focus back and forth between indoor track and cross country.  She and Coach Hopkins planned for this last fall when their cross country season was cut short by the pandemic and the entire indoor season was uncertain.

“It’s definitely kind of crazy,” Hasz said joining Coach Hopkins over Zoom.  “Hop actually has the harder job of how to put us together.  We just show up and do what she says, and show up at the races.  Definitely felt weird running cross country in January and trying to juggle that with all the track meets around it, but it’s been fun so far.”

Hasz came into the Big Ten Cross Country Championships off of a 3000m on January 9 (9:24.49), and a 5000m on January 16 (15:50.74).  Since placing 20th at those championships as a freshman in 2016, Hasz has steadily improved her results: she was 10th in 2017, fifth in 2018, redshirted in 2019, then won the postponed 2020 edition this year.  In a thrilling finish, she passed a tiring Bailey Hertenstein of the University of Indiana inside of the final 20 meters when Hertenstein stumbled over a small berm.  Hasz was thrilled to win, but perhaps even more excited that her team finished second almost certainly earning them a place among the nation’s top-31 collegiate teams at the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships on March 15, in Stillwater, Okla.  Sister Megan was the fifth scorer.

Bethany (left) and Megan Hasz after running 15:25 and 15:39 for 5k in December of 2019. Photo via gophersports.com

“I think such a huge thing with cross country is that there’s such a big team aspect to it,” said Hasz, whose last name rhymes with Oz.  “On the track, like, you compete with a team, but in your race it feels so individual.  But in cross, all of us are competing in the same event so you’re really running for your team.  I think that’s a huge thing, like… all five of you running with the team and for the team.”

Coach Hopkins had followed the Hasz twins throughout their high school careers and suspected that they would fit well into her program.  She was familiar with the training she had done at Alexandria Area High School under coaches Mark Nelson, Travis Hochhalter, and Meghan Orgeman-Crumb, and felt good that the girls weren’t doing too much mileage or being pushed too hard in training.

“They were good right out of the gate,” Hopkins recalled.  She continued: “Knowing what their training looked like in high school, those guys did an awesome job of not overtraining them, and not running them into the ground in high school.  They were doing good workouts but nothing over the top.  You knew that there was going to be more in the tank and that they would keep getting better.”

Hasz’s 3000m times went from 9:41.87 in 2017, to 9:13.95 in 2018, 9:11.46 in 2019, and 9:13.46 in 2020 before the pandemic shut down competition.  Her progress was good, but she felt that she had yet to put together a 3000m which truly reflected her ability and her training.

“I’ve been a little frustrated by the 3-K the last couple of years,” Hasz said.  “I ran 9:13 then a couple of 9:11’s.  So it was kind of stuck right there.”

But at the Hawkeye B1G Invitational last Saturday in Iowa City, Hasz broke through with 8:59.37 personal best, the #6 time in the NCAA.  That mark lines up much better with her 5000m best of 15:25.33 run in the December of 2019 in a paced race at Boston University when she was fully rested because she was redshirting.

“That 15:25 in Boston I was definitely surprised by (but) I don’t think Hop was,” Hasz said.  “She told me the summer beforehand –I think it was like in June– you can run 15:25 in December.  And I was like, well, that’s a 20-second PR; seems a little aggressive.  But that’s what I went and ended up running.  So, turns out she knows what’s she talking about.”

Coach Hopkins has been given the difficult task of peaking her distance women four times in the first 11 weeks of the year.  First, she needed to get them ready for the Big Ten Cross Country Championships on January 30, a meet which is normally held in early November but was postponed due to the pandemic.  Next, they need to be sharp for the Big Ten Indoor Championships in Geneva, Ohio, which runs from February 25 to 27.  After that –if they qualify– her athletes need to be ready for the NCAA Indoor Championships in Fayetteville, Ark., on March 11 – 13, and probably the NCAA Cross Country Championships in Stillwater, Okla., just two days later.  She’s helping her women to take things one step at at time.

“The biggest challenge, and a really great challenge as it happens to be a year where we have a really great cross country team and a really good indoor track team,” Hopkins said.  “So, I’ve kind of been tasked with having the team ready in January, but also holding up our end of the bargain on the indoor track next week at the Big Ten meet.”  She added: “What I told them going into it was we’re a good team now, but we’re going to be a better team in four weeks, and an even better team in six weeks and I genuinely believe that.”

Hasz, who has already earned a degree in kinesiology and is now working on her M.Ed. in sport/exercise science, will likely triple at her conference indoor meet in the mile, 3000m, and 5000m allowing her to score the maximum amount of points for the Gophers.  It’s a Minnesota tradition that athletes prioritize team points over individual titles, and athletes know that when they join the team.

“Like a lot of great athletes we’ve had, whether it’s Heather Kampf or Gabe Grunewald (Anderson), they’d go to Big Ten meets and know that it’s about the team and they need to double or triple and that might take away some of their individual glory, perhaps,” Coach Hopkins explained.  “That’s what we do with Bethany, too.”

At the last Big Ten Indoor Championships in 2020 –which were held just before the onset of the pandemic– Hasz finished third in the mile, second in the 3000m, and seventh in the 5000m, scoring 16 points for her team.

But should she compete in either –or possibly both– the NCAA Indoor and Cross Country Championships, Hasz has aspirations of finishing among the top women.  That’s something that she’s only let herself think about recently.  Her best finish at an NCAA Cross Country Championships was 49th in 2018, and her best placing at an NCAA championships on the track was tenth in the 5000m (outdoors) in 2019.

“It’s definitely hard to put myself in there because I haven’t been there,” said Hasz who got married last August.  “But based on the times I’m excited to put myself in a position where I could contend for a title, even though it doesn’t quite feel comfortable to say that.”

Coach Hopkins is trying to keep things loose for her star runner.  She’s not ready to say what she’ll do after her conference championships are over.

“That’s the million dollar question,” said Coach Hopkins, choosing her words carefully.  “Bethany and I have been talking about that.  We’ve been sort of talking about it in philosophy since probably the fall when we thought that this was going to happen, then becoming more of a reality as we come closer to it.  She’s put herself in a position that she has every option open.  What we talked about is getting through the Big Ten indoor meet, see what that brings, and make some decisions after that in terms of how we play that weekend.  I think she’s strong enough and old enough at this point in her career so we have options.  I won’t play our cards yet, so TBD.”

Hasz, who said she looks up to pro runners Karissa Schweizer and Emma Coburn, listened placidly as her coach spoke.  When asked what she thought, she kept her answer brief.

“I think it’s a lot, but it’s fun to have options, and I don’t know,” she said.

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