DES MOINES, Iowa — Track meets are interesting to observe. One weekend Minnesota faces essentially no challenge in team competition, and the next weekend it’s facing Olympians in some of its events.
Just last weekend, the Minnesota women’s track team was in competition with Division II and III opponents. That was far from the case at this weekend’s Drake Relays, which featured a smattering of the nation’s elite athletes.
The Gophers competed against arguably their best competition since Big Ten Indoor Championships, and did well for themselves. Head coach Gary Wilson said the team has re-focused on individual training and results, rather than team competition.
“We just started to reign it in, in the middle of March, when we realized we had too many holes to fill,” Wilson said.
Minnesota didn’t even have enough a large enough gathering to qualify for the team scoring competition. Coaches attributed the reduced squad to a lack of able bodies and the loss of some athletes who were competing elsewhere or attending class this weekend.
The strength of the Gophers women’s team was in the field events. While the runners only competed in four events, a Minnesota athlete was in all but three field events.
Sophomore Christina Gulbrandsen placed third in the triple jump among some of the best competition available. She also added a personal record (pr) in the pole vault, where she finished ninth. Her vault of 10 feet, 8.5 inches brought her to the height of 11-3, and a chance to qualify for the NCAA Championships.
She struggled on her first two attempts before getting some advice from men’s head coach Phil Lundin. Her third and final attempt was close, but not good enough for a clearance. Although she missed out on her chance to qualify for NCAAs, Gulbrandsen was understandably pleased with the results.
“If I pr,’ and I’m 30th, I’m happy with that,” Gulbrandsen said.
Another strong Minnesota performance came from the busy Aubrey Schmitt. She spent Saturday morning competing in the discus, and then the afternoon in the shot put. Despite a sub-par performance in the discus, Schmitt came back to place fifth in the shot put.
It would be an understatement to say the competition was tough for the Gophers. Although Schmitt had another NCAA provisional qualifying throw in the shot put, her efforts earned her only fifth place. 1996 Olympian Tressa Thompson finished first, leaving Schmitt to ponder how the meet will help the team to prepare for next month’s Big Ten Championships.
“You can kind of get the feeling that the pressure’s on, and you have to do well,” Schmitt said.
Wilson emphasized the team’s focus for this year isn’t on team scores, but individual results. Maybe the best thing the Gophers got out of the relays was the big-meet experience for their youthful squad.
“These kids have just done a marvelous job, and they’re just a classy bunch of kids,” Wilson said.
The lone Minnesota individual in the top 10 of a race was Minna Haronoja, who placed seventh in the 1500-meter run. Although the result might not seem impressive, Haronoja ran the second-fastest time in that event in Minnesota history.
Yvette White also ran well this weekend as Minnesota’s lone representative at the Penn Relays. She had personal bests in both the 100-meter hurdles and 400-meter hurdles. Unfortunately for White, she finished no higher than sixth in her preliminary heats.
Three other Gophers were running this weekend at the Macalaster Invitational, and all ran the mile. Gena Johnson was the highest Minnesota finisher, taking second place.
The team is looking forward to being back in town for next weekend’s meet, when Minnesota will host its first outdoor meet of the year at the Bierman Track and Field Stadium.