Track and field teams set for Drake Relays

Ben Goessling

After two and a half seasons with Minnesota’s men’s track and field team, seven-time All-American sprinter Mitch Potter will finally get his chance to run at this weekend’s Drake Relays.

Potter has been a late scratch for the prestigious meet the last two years, being removed from the roster two weeks before the meet in 2001 because of a hamstring injury and learning on the day the team bus left last year that he broke a bone in his foot.

“I went and watched last year, but you can’t experience it until you run it,” Potter said. “I’m pretty anxious for it.”

Like Potter, the rest of the Gophers are chomping at the bit to arrive in Des Moines, Iowa. The team sees this year’s meet, which begins today, as a prime chance to loot a handful of individual and relay titles.

“We have a lot more athletes than usual that are in position to be Drake Relay champions,” coach Phil Lundin said. “We want to let kids run as many races as possible, but the expectations are pretty high.”

Minnesota scored two titles in 2001 and one last year, when Andrew McKessock won the 1,500-meter run on a soggy track.

But this year, as the Gophers continue to point toward next month’s Big Ten championships as their best shot to win a conference title in four years, there will be a different mentality in Drake Stadium.

“I wouldn’t doubt we’ll put a Big Ten-type of emphasis on this meet,” Potter said. “There’s no more relaxing. We’re going down there to win, and we’re expecting quite a bit out of everyone.”

Women’s track and field

For women’s track and field coach Gary Wilson, his 27th trip to the Drake Relays this weekend will bring back so many familiar faces that it might as well be a home meet.

“You just get welcomed like an old friend,” Wilson said. “I know a lot of the officials down there, and I get to renew a lot of acquaintances. It’s always exciting for me to go down there.”

Added to Wilson’s anticipation is that he brings a squad to Des Moines that is clicking as well as any Gophers team in the last three years.

Senior Shani Marks currently holds the nation’s best mark in the triple jump, and will enter the meet as Minnesota’s best chance for its third Drake Relays title in as many years.

“Overall, Marks is the highlight right now,” Wilson said. “It’s a very good field in the triple jump from what I can tell, but this is a great opportunity for her.”

For the Gophers, who are aiming for a top-three finish when they host the Big Ten championships May 16-18, the weekend is their last chance to prove themselves on a big stage.

“There will be 18,000 people there Saturday, and most of these kids don’t have 18,000 people in their whole town,” Wilson said. “It gives the kids a chance to be in a prestigious meet, and it’s a good building block for the Big Ten meet.”

Notes

ï The meet’s 37-year streak of selling out Saturday’s session, a U.S. record for consecutive sellouts at a track meet, is in jeopardy. More than 1,000 tickets remained as of last weekend.

ïStacey Dragila, the 2000 Olympic gold medalist in the women’s pole vault, will compete in the women’s invitational pole vault this weekend.

Ben Goessling covers track and field and welcomes comments at [email protected]