ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — Sarah Hopkins knew the kind of talent she had to work with when Bethany and Megan Hasz came to the University of Minnesota in 2016.
Hopkins, the Gophers head coach in women’s cross country and assistant in track and field, vowed back then that nothing the twin sisters from Alexandria did in the program in the coming years would surprise her. She admits now that’s not always been the case.
“I always say I shouldn’t be surprised with them anymore, but it still surprises me just a little bit when they do what they do,” Hopkins said with a laugh on May 1. “That’s what’s going to be fun about the next year.”
Hopkins is already thinking ahead to next season and what the fifth-year runners for the Gophers could accomplish in both the Big Ten and at a national level.
Megan and Bethany have already solidified themselves as two of the best distance runners in the country. Bethany’s 5K time of 15:25.33 run in Boston this past December was the 14th-fastest indoor 5K time in NCAA history. Megan’s time of 15:39.03 was 41st.
“I don’t put a limit on what the next year can hold for them,” Hopkins said.
The Gophers celebrated their team award winners through an online banquet on April 26, and Bethany was named the women’s track MVP after racking up 16 total points at the Big Ten Indoor Championships while running in three events.
Bethany’s 16 points led the team Feb. 28-29, but it was her willingness to run those three events that also stood out to Hopkins. The Gophers finished second at the meet and fell just five points shy of the championship behind Ohio State.
The Gophers pushed hard for that team title. To have a chance at it, Bethany needed to run those three races despite the NCAA Indoor Championships scheduled to come two weeks later.
“There’s a lot of kids who will say, ‘I want to run well at the national meet for myself, so I want to run just one or two events at the Big Ten meet so I’m not as tired at nationals,’” Hopkins said. “We had a shot at the team title, so she and I discussed that. She was every bit of, ‘Yep, whatever the team needs.’ Her willingness to do that is pretty spectacular for a kid of her caliber.”
In addition to being named Minnesota’s track MVP, Bethany was also named the Midwest Region’s women’s track athlete of the year by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.
Working through injury
Megan Hasz also received an honor from the Gophers as she earned a Tough as Nails Award.
Megan dealt with a stress fracture in her right foot during the indoor season that started in late December. She tried to rehab through it by cross training and running on an anti-gravity treadmill to be ready for the Big Ten Championships in late February. She started the 5K run but had to pull out of the race before finishing.
“Megan has probably dealt with a little bit more adversity through her last four years than Bethany has,” Hopkins said. “Every time, she has come out of it better and stronger. She’s had to adjust her mindset, but it’s made her tougher and stronger. She’s going to be better in the long run in her career for it.”
University of Minnesota athletes are not available for interviews until after finals are over in mid-May, but Hopkins said Megan is doing well right now with the injury. The focus is having her healthy and running at her normal level in the fall if the season gets going on time.
“She’s running pretty much back up to normal mileage,” Hopkins said.
The indoor and outdoor seasons came to an end on March 12, right before the indoor championships, when the Big Ten and NCAA announced that competition would be canceled for the rest of the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The NCAA decided not long after that spring athletes who lost their seasons would get an extra year of athletic eligibility if they wanted it.
That will leave the Hasz sisters with a decision to make after next school year. Both are currently working on their master’s degrees academically. They could choose to run with the Gophers during the 2022 outdoor season.
“Whether it’s the smart thing for them to do or not, those are all talks we’re continuously having,” Hopkins said. “They both know they have a pro career in running waiting for them after they’re done with us. There’s a lot of question marks at this point. We’re obviously trying to focus on next year. We know they have all three seasons with us then.”
The sisters have already left their mark on the University of Minnesota record books. Bethany owns the 5,000-meter record (15:25.33), the 3,000-meter record (9:11.46) and is second at Minnesota with a time of 4:38.86 in the mile run during the indoor season. In the outdoor season, Bethany also holds the Gophers 5,000-meter record of 15:45.72.
Megan ended this past indoor season ranked second in the 5,000-meter run (15:39.03) and ninth in the 3,000-meter race (9:25.33) on Minnesota’s all-time list. During the 2019 outdoor season, she ran a career-best 33:09.57 in the 10,000-meter run at the Stanford Invitational to set a Gophers’ program record.
The results on the course have always spoken loudly for the Hasz sisters, but Hopkins has enjoyed watching them grow as team leaders, as well. Both girls are reserved by nature, but they understand their role as top athletes within this program.
“That’s what I try to tell people on the team is, ‘You guys are on a team right now with probably the two best distance runners ever from the state of Minnesota from the standpoint of collegiate accomplishments,’ at least for those who have stayed home at Minnesota,” Hopkins said. “That’s an awesome thing to be a part of, but also to learn from too. Just like I learn from them and am becoming a better coach from coaching them, as teammates they can do the exact same thing.”
More left to accomplish
The Hasz sisters have already accomplished so much at Minnesota, but Hopkins said they are motivated to do even more.
Neither of them have been first-team All-Americans yet. Bethany looked on her way to that before the indoor championships were canceled.
“But we don’t have that piece of paper,” Hopkins said. “I think that’s a big thing. Neither of them have won an individual Big Ten title yet. They’ve both been second and third a lot of times, so that’s still out there to get that Big Ten title. I think that’s logical for them, with one getting it in cross country, and then both on the track too.”
Then it’s setting themselves up for their professional careers. Megan and Bethany have run times never seen before from distance runners at Minnesota, but this is just a step in what will likely be a long career in running for the sisters.
“It’s keeping on chasing those big PRs,” Hopkins said. “Eventually for a pro career, that’s what the shoe companies and coaches are going to be looking at are times on paper. As a distance runner, you always feel like you can be a little bit better. So it’s always chasing that perfect day.”