Three event winners lead Uwomen

Jim Schortemeyer

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was a banner weekend for a few Minnesota athletes at this weekend’s women’s Big Ten outdoor track and field championships. Others would probably just like to forget the spring season.
The Gophers ended up in seventh place, the same as their indoor performance three months ago. Michigan won the team competition, followed by Wisconsin. The Gophers were more than 70 points behind the Wolverines, who finished with 129 points.
What Minnesota lacked in overall score, however, it made up for in individual performances.
Although Minnesota’s men’s team won its team competition, the women actually had more champions (three) than the men (two). That statistical quirk is thanks to the throwing contingent.
For Minnesota’s throwers, it was a weekend unmatched in team history: three events, three champions. Nicole Chimko and Aubrey Schmitt combined for the victories in the javelin, shot put and discus.
Schmitt’s victory in the shot put Saturday almost didn’t happen. She waited until her last throw to move up from second, the position she occupied for most of the competition.
“I just put all I had into that last throw,” said Schmitt, who won the competition by half an inch.
Chimko followed Schmitt’s lead with a narrow victory in the javelin. Penn State’s Jen Pastore — last year’s champion — was hampered by an injury, but managed to lump her energy into one throw to briefly gain the lead. Chimko responded with a toss that broke her personal record by almost a foot — a mark which Pastore never challenged.
By Sunday’s events, Minnesota’s athletes knew where to be. Hoping for a sweep, two-thirds of the team were watching the discus competition. They weren’t disappointed.
Chimko and Schmitt competed jointly for the first time all weekend, and combined for a first- and third-place finish. Chimko won the event, although both throwers were three meters short of their efforts last week. The Minnesota women also had a sixth-place finish from Jenney Luer, while Brenda Meyer took eighth.
Add to those results Angie Hill’s third-place finish in the exhibition-hammer throw, and throwing coach Lynne Anderson had a good weekend.
“Was I surprised? No,” Anderson said. “To win them, a little, but that’s called athletics. You just have to be ready to take advantage of the situation.”
The scary part about the weekend for the other Big Ten schools is the youth of Minnesota’s squad. None of the team’s throwers is beyond her sophomore year, and Chimko has yet to tap her potential.
“She’s still learning,” Anderson said. “All of these women are just learning.”
Though Minnesota’s throwers had the best places, the runners were all peaking at the right time, too. Every distance runner set a personal record, head coach Gary Wilson said.
Unfortunately for Wilson’s Gophers, the highest finish a runner earned was Minna Haronoja’s sixth place in the 3,000 meters.
Some interesting changes to the Minnesota line-up might have affected those results. Haronoja, one of the fastest 1,500-meter runners in Gophers history, did not compete in that event. Wilson reasoned that she would not place in the top three, so she ran in the 3,000- and 5,000-meter races.
Haronoja finished sixth in the 3,000, and Wilson said she will compete in the 1,500 next year.
It was a rough weekend for Big Ten veteran Yvette White, who earned third and fifth place in the hurdle events last year. Battling a hip flexor injory, White only qualified for the finals in the 100-meter low hurdles, and finished eighth.
On the whole, though, Minnesota got what it was looking for this weekend. The young group of runners and throwers got the experience Wilson hoped they would. In fact, Wilson’s team plan involved a lot of watching.
“I told them, I want you to watch the men and see what they’re going through,’ so we’ll be ready for next year,” Wilson said.