Gophers will send three to NCAAs

by Scott Bradley

The Gophers’ Jason Schlueter, Paul Michalek and Vesa Rantanen learned this weekend that they qualified for the NCAA men’s track and field outdoor championships.
The NCAA notified the qualifying athletes on Saturday for the meet that begins Wednesday in Eugene, Ore. The championships last through June 1.
Schlueter, a junior discus thrower, earned an NCAA automatic berth last month when he set the school record with a throw of 198 feet at the Drake Relays. Michalek, Minnesota’s top middle-distance runner, qualified in the 800- and 1,500-meter runs. Rantanen will compete in the pole vault.
Michalek and Rantanen had provisional qualifying marks going into the weekend, which means they weren’t guaranteed a spot in the NCAA meet. Typically, the nation’s top 18 athletes in each event qualify.
Schlueter and freshman decathlete Ben Jensen were the only Minnesota athletes who automatically qualified for this week’s meet. But Jensen, who set the school record in his first collegiate decathlon with 7,590 points, won’t compete since he is still recovering from an emergency appendectomy.
Besides losing Jensen, the Gophers lost junior pole vaulter Tye Harvey for the whole season when he broke his collarbone while snowboarding on a vacation last year. Harvey placed eighth at last year’s NCAA outdoor championships.
Although a top-10 NCAA team finish would have been realistic with Jensen and Harvey healthy, Gophers coach Phil Lundin said he is hoping for a top-20 finish.
“When you consider what we’re leaving behind at home this year, I think that’s a realistic goal,” he said. “I feel very good about the guys we’re sending this year. It will be very interesting.”
Lundin is looking forward to the meet this week, but not everyone received good news from the NCAA over the weekend.
Junior triple jumper Adrian Ellis and shot put thrower Chad Yenchesky held provisional marks, but did not qualify. Ellis earned his best mark of the year last week when he leaped 52 feet, 3« inches.
“It would have been nice to get those guys in there,” Lundin said. “But those are the harsh realities of the sport.”
Under the circumstances, Lundin would just like to see Schlueter, Michalek and Rantanen earn All-America honors. That distinction goes to the top eight finishers in each event. Considering none of the three Gophers’ NCAA qualifiers have competed in the outdoor championships before, that could prove to be a challenge.
Rantanen, a freshman from Virrat, Finland, won the pole vault competition last weekend at the Big Ten outdoor championships. His vault of 17 feet, 10 inches places him second behind former Gophers All-American Martin Eriksson.
Although he’s a senior, Michalek is just as new to the NCAA outdoor championships as his two teammates. Michalek, who holds the school record in the 800 and 1,500, competed at this year’s indoor NCAA championships. Michalek will compete only in the 1,500 this week and said his goal is to finish in the top five.
“I was a little surprised going into indoors,” he said. “I think it was a good experience because I could see how everything works at that level. That definitely helps going into the outdoor championships.”
Rantanen will compete on Wednesday afternoon, but Schlueter and Michalek’s final results won’t be known until Friday and Saturday.