With key athletes either recovering from injuries or missing in action, the Gophers men’s track and field team’s strategy for the Big Ten indoor championships is simple. It amounts to feeling out its opponents and waiting to deliver the knockout punch in the spring outdoor season.
Senior Scott Beadle, one of the Big Ten’s top middle distance runners, when healthy, is nursing tendinitis in his knee. And Tyler McCormick, who qualified for the NCAA indoor championships in the high jump a year ago, is still recovering from back surgery.
Without normal contributions from those athletes, Minnesota will have a tough time duplicating its third-place finish of a year ago in the meet, which takes place Saturday and Sunday in Iowa City, Iowa.
“We’re going in with a lot of question marks,” Gophers coach Phil Lundin said. “But our general mind-set is still good. We’ll just duct tape ourselves up.”
What Minnesota does have is a strong contingent in the field events, especially the pole vault. The Gophers have 10 NCAA provisional qualifiers in 1997, and seven of them are in the pole vault. And that’s without sophomore Vesa Rantanen, who finished 10th at the NCAA outdoor championships in 1996. Rantanen is home in Finland this quarter because of the death of his father.
Still, Minnesota has three vaulters who have provisionally qualified for NCAAs in sophomore Ben Jensen and juniors Tye Harvey and Jon Anderson. The Gophers will depend heavily on those three for points this weekend.
“Nowadays, with 12.6 scholarships for 20 events, you find a lot of schools that specialize like that,” Lundin said. “I don’t think it’s a conscious thing, going after pole vaulters. We go after the best athletes.”
Lundin said the Gophers are more of an outdoor-oriented team, strong in outdoor-only events like the decathlon and discus. Jensen and Jason Schlueter both automatically qualified for NCAAs in 1996 in those respective events. So for now, Minnesota will make do with what it has got, then bide its time until spring.