Minnesota’s men’s track and field team has finished in the top two at the Big Ten Championships in eight of Phil Lundin’s nine years as coach.
During that same period of time, Lundin said, Minnesota high school track and field has been undergoing a sort of renaissance. This correlation is little surprise for a program that during the last 10 years has had a roster dominated by Minnesotans.
“There was a string of two to three years in the late ’90s and the early 21st century where there were some unbelievably strong performances in the state among our high school kids,” Lundin said. “We were lucky to get the lion’s share of those kids, and that’s kind of why over the last five, six years, we’ve been pretty successful.”
That success also resulted in even more in-state recruiting clout. Of the 64 athletes on Minnesota’s roster this year, 46 graduated from Minnesota high schools.
Mankato West High School boys’ track and field coach Jim Bassett has two of his former athletes on the current Minnesota roster in mid-distance runner Hans Storvick and distance runner Seijen Takamura.
Bassett said the Gophers’ recent accomplishments have helped them on the Minnesota recruiting trail.
“Phil Lundin and (cross country coach) Steve Plasencia have really developed a strong program, and they certainly know what they’re doing,” Bassett said. “Kids like to be involved in programs that are being successful.”
Lundin said the University’s academic programs were a major factor in getting the ball of in-state prosperity rolling for Minnesota track and field.
For senior thrower Andy Tilstra, a Luverne High School graduate, academics were a major draw to Minnesota.
“I came here, because I wanted to go to engineering school,” Tilstra said. “(The Institute of Technology is) one of the top 10 mechanical engineering schools, and the track thing was just a great opportunity I was given.”
But the academic angle also makes recruiting in Minnesota more difficult, Lundin said.
Lundin said the public schools in the state make Minnesota a magnet for other track and field programs looking for academically capable athletes.
“A lot of people come up here to recruit because of the fact that the public school systems are pretty strong,” Lundin said. “You tend to find that you’re going to find some good university collegiate preparation from kids that are schooled in Minnesota.”
In-state recruiting is also vital because of the northern climate in Minnesota.
Tilstra said the cold weather makes it difficult to get athletes from out of the area to commit to Minnesota.
“You can’t go down to Florida or Texas and ask some guy who’s used to 80-degree springs to come up and throw in the snow,” Tilstra said. “It’s something where, if we start losing our kids down to the Southern schools, we’re not going to do well.”
For the future, Lundin said, the key to continuing a successful program that relies on a Minnesota high school pipeline is feeding the state high school coaching ranks with Gophers track and field alumni.
“The more people you have there in the high school ranks, the better off you are,” Lundin said. “So recruiting people to go into coaching that are good athletes and good kids for you is good. But not that many people are choosing the education route anymore.”
Senior decathlete Travis Brandstatter was named Big Ten athlete of the week Monday after winning the decathlon title at the Mt. SAC Relays on Thursday in Walnut, Calif.
Brandstatter also qualified for the Midwest Regional Championships after winning the 110-meter hurdles in a time of 14.21. On Saturday, he finished third in the javelin at the Long Beach Invitational and qualified for regionals in that event with a throw of 205-0.
Hunter player of week
Minnesota baseball first baseman Andy Hunter was named co-Big Ten player of the week Monday after going 9-for-15 with four RBIs in a four-game split with Penn State during the weekend.