As Shakopee’s girls cross country and wrestling coach, Mark Neu is no stranger to the dedication and sacrifice athletes make toward perfecting their craft. But even Neu can’t quantify Maria Hauger’s drive when it comes to running.

“She works harder than anyone I’ve ever coached, including wrestling, varsity softball,” Neu said. “I’ve coached a lot of things. I’ve never seen anybody dedicate her whole heart and soul to things like this. She’s an amazing kid.”
It’s that drive that has led Hauger, a junior, to three straight Class AA state titles. And on Saturday, it allowed Hauger to compete against some of the nation’s top runners at the 33rd Annual Foot Locker Cross Country Championships in San Diego.

Hauger finished 21st overall at the race with an 18:07 time on the 5-kilometer race. She qualified by placing in the top 10 at the Midwest Regional on Nov. 28 in Kenosha, Wis.

“This has really always been my highest goal,” Hauger said. “Last year it was my main goal after state, and I hadn’t achieved it. This year, this is what I really wanted and I was so happy I actually accomplished it.”

Hauger said she wanted to place in the top 10 nationally, but facing a deep running field made it difficult to separate from the pack. She said strategically it was more difficult to maneuver through the competition. 

“Here, it’s a lot different,” she said. “You’re bumping arms with people, and it’s all strategy. We’re all fast, and we all can win on any given day. It’s just who has that day.”

Senior Molly Seidel, of University Lake School in Hartland, Wis., won the championship with a 17:22 finish.

Neu said Hauger possesses a drive to win and an ability to withstand the pain associated with running long distances. But Hauger’s work ethic sets her apart.

She’s running on dark mornings, her dad alongside her on a bike, putting in the time to get better year-round.

“She’s just a machine,” Neu said. 

With the Foot Locker championships behind her, Hauger now has the offseason to continue training heading into the spring track and field season. Then it’s on to her senior season, where she hopes to win her fourth state cross country title.

It’s something she’s not taking for granted. Hauger has a gift, and she’s using it to the best of her ability.

“I’m just thankful for it every day,” Hauger said. “It’s so cool. .. But it’s really hard work, too. I don’t know if people realize that. So I’m just so grateful.