U improves in home track meet

by Allison Younge

Gophers freshman Natalie Smith’s focused look of determination was replaced by a smile Saturday at Bierman Track and Field Stadium after placing first in the long jump and triple jump at the Minnesota Maroon and Gold women’s track and field meet.
“It wasn’t such a competitive meet for me,” Smith said. “I was basically trying to get my technique down, but I’m really happy with the results.”
Smith claimed the fifth-best Gophers triple jump ever with a mark of 39 feet, 21 inches. She jumped 18-5 to also clinch first in the long jump. In addition, Smith ran the first leg of the winning 4×400-meter relay, in which the Gophers clocked a 3:58.21.
Smith attributed her successful day to technical sharpness, which came from the advice and coaching she received throughout the week. But after her first long, cold Minnesota winter, the St. Thomas, Barbados native also credited Saturday’s warm, sunny conditions.
“I was so happy when I got up (Saturday) morning,” Smith said. “I was like, ‘Yes, finally some weather we can work with.'”
Smith was just one of seven underclassmen to earn individual first place finishes on Saturday. Minnesota’s young athletes dominated the six-team meet in which no team scores were kept. The Gophers placed first in 13 out of 18 events, four of which no Minnesota athletes were even entered. Gophers coach Gary Wilson reveled at his team’s overall team effort.
“I’m seeing some good focus and good attitudes out there these days,” Wilson said.
Sophomore duo Yvette White and Kim Heath mastered the sprint and hurdle races. White clocked a 14.06 in the 100 high hurdles and a 61.14 in the 400 hurdles to claim first place finishes. Heath ran a 12.14 in the 100 and a 25.29 in the 200 to place first in her respective events.
Heath and White, along with teammates Shellie Braggs and Apasha Blocker, also clocked the fourth best time in Minnesota history in the 4×100 relay with a 47.24.
Wilson was especially impressed with freshman Kristie Stiles’ first-place effort in the 800. The Eden Prairie native edged Iowa State’s Kim Iverson in a photo finish by one-one-thousandth of a second. She then went on to run the anchor leg of the Gopher’s first place 4×400 relay team. As she continues to improve, so do her goals for the end of the season.
“I really want to place at Big Tens, but we’ll see,” Stiles said. “I at least want to get my (personal record) there.”
Freshman Nicole Chimko continued her solid performances in the discus and javelin. She provisionally qualified for the NCAA championships in the discus with a throw of 163-7, taking the sixth-best position in Gopher’s history.
Chimko edged 1995 Big Ten champion Dani Parkos by 1 foot, 8 inches to clinch first place in the event. Parkos also managed to provisionally qualify with her throw of 161-11.
Chimko also finished first in her main event, the javelin, with a throw of 144-5. Gophers heptathlete Apasha Blocker finished second with a 112-1.
Gophers single event winners included sophomores Marissa McGill (1,500) and Anna Gullingsrud (3,000).
Minnesota’s freshman and sophomore athletes showed vast promise in Saturday’s meet. With the Big Tens just two weeks away, Wilson is excited about the Gophers’ progress.
“I’m seeing our young people regrouped and moving toward the Big Tens,” Wilson said. “A good focus is coming from all these kids.”