Alexandria's Megan and Bethany Hasz posted times in high school during the cross country season that suggested they would translate to immediate success at the college level.
One never knows, though, until it happens. These are different courses with different difficulties. It's generally a greater distance, going from 5K in high school to 6K at most college meets. Strategy throughout race day becomes even more important going up against some of the best college runners in the country. In short, it's everything the twin sisters wanted.
"It's definitely lived up to all my expectations," Megan said ahead of the NCAA Midwest Regional meet on Nov. 11. "I love being here. I love being a Gopher and being a part of this awesome team."
The sisters proved that even as freshmen, they are still some of the best at their craft. Both finished in the top 12 and set personal and Gopher rookie record 6K times at the Midwest Regional as Megan finished ninth (20:27.7) and Bethany was 12th (20:32.6).
That earned them all-region honors and left them second and third among University of Minnesota runners, behind only redshirt junior teammate Madeline Strandemo (seventh, 20:23.7). Strandemo was selected to run as an individual at the NCAA Championship meet on Nov. 19.
Megan and Bethany didn't quite make the cut for the NCAA Championship, but even being in that discussion shows what kind of season they had. It's exactly why Gophers head coach Sarah Hopkins put so much emphasis on keeping them home during the recruiting process.
"Probably historically speaking, there's maybe been one or two other instate talents who have been as good on paper as both of them," Hopkins said. "To get that commitment that early on in the process was awesome because that trickles down into other recruits. There are others who want to come here to run with them instead of just competing against them."
The Hasz sisters left no doubt from the beginning that they would be fixtures from the start during the Gophers' biggest meets. They were a part of the team that finished fourth at the Big Ten Championship hosted by Minnesota on Oct. 30.
Megan earned second-team All-Big Ten honors after finishing 11th overall (21:24.9) in the 6K. As is customary, one is never far behind the other as Bethany was 20th in 21:41.5.
"It was a really exciting experience, especially being at home and performing that well and scoring that many points for the team," Megan said of the All-Big Ten honors. "It was a really good feeling. I was hoping for the top 15-20. I knew I had that potential, so 11th was really exciting."
Megan says the finish surprised her a little bit, but it's hard to use that word for anything these two do on a race course. Hopkins saw this kind of potential in them from the very beginning.
"I guess I kind of came in thinking nothing would really surprise me knowing how talented they were," Hopkins said, "but what they've done is unbelieveable. It's really, really hard to do what they're doing right now."
Race-day strategy in high school was simple at most meets for the Hasz sisters as they generally got out to big leads and coasted to 1-2 finishes. That doesn't happen at this level and Hopkins says most elite high school cross country runners have to learn how to run a smart meet against national competition.
"That's maybe been the most surprising thing to me is they really haven't needed as much guidance in that area as I thought they might," Hopkins said. "They've really adapted to that piece of it very well."
There are freshmen on the national level who can make early impacts in cross country, but Hopkins says it's not the norm. Most are still 18-19-year-old kids going up against 22-23-year-olds who have years of college training behind them.
"When you look at the Wisconsin Adidas meet, which was probably our biggest national caliber meet to this point in the year, Megan was the second best freshman in the meet and Bethany was the fourth best freshman in the meet. That's out of 350-some runners. They are doing something that nationally is pretty special."
The Hasz sisters have always been self motivated, but this kind of competition only adds fuel to their fire. They knew they couldn't rest on their laurels from high school.
"It's a great motivation," Bethany said. "Even in practice, having a group of teammates to train with at every workout. It's not just me and Megan doing the workout together. There's a whole group of us pushing each other. It makes workouts, not easier necessarily, but it makes it easier to push yourself through your workouts."
The sisters have always had each other and nothing has changed in that regard. They live together in the dorms on campus. They are both kinesiology majors.
Juggling academics and the demands of being Big Ten athletes? Not much of an issue for the former 4.0 Alexandria students. The miles they are logging in training - about 45-50 each week during the season - haven't been much of a jump from where they were, leading up to their freshmen years.
"It's been really nice to adjust this quickly to college running," Megan said. "I hope to just continue improving throughout my career. It's been a good indicator that I can compete at this level, I guess."
'HARD TO SEE WHERE THE CEILING IS'
The Hasz sisters competed and made the rest of the country take notice that they will be a fixture in cross country the next three years. Their immediate future focuses on getting ready for their first season on the track. As for the distant future, the sky looks to be the limit for this Alexandria duo.
"It's hard to see where the ceiling is," Hopkins said. "We've had multiple-time All Americans. We've had people who have run really well and they're doing every bit as well if not better than all those kids did as freshmen. I think once they find their niche and keep training at this level and getting better, I believe they are capable of being cross country All Americans. I certainly believe once we figure out exactly where to put them on the track, I think they're going to be in contention for winning Big Ten titles and being national-caliber kids on the track, too. I wouldn't be surprised with anything they do. I firmly believe in their talent and their work ethic and their smarts."