Minnesota advances six to championships

The team’s 4×4 relay group qualified last week for the event.

Jack White

The No. 16 Gophers men’s 19 track and field athletes who competed at last week’s NCAA West Preliminary in Lawrence, Kan., improved on last season’s performance at the same event. 
Six athletes earned qualifying marks to advance to the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, up from four qualifiers the year before. The group includes a relay team and one representative each in the track and field categories.
“We have the 4×4 relay team going, so that’s something that is going to be exciting for us,” head coach Steve Plasencia said. “The more athletes you have participating in [the NCAA Championships], the better it is for everybody in the program. We’re happy to up our number from last 
year.”
Minnesota’s relay team of senior Goaner Deng, redshirt sophomore Brad Neumann, redshirt junior Nate Roese and freshman Jack Wellenstein qualified with a 3:05.95 12th-place finish. 
The group earned its championship bid by slim margins, with only 12 teams able to qualify. No relay teams have competed in the NCAA Championships for Minnesota  since 2013, when the 4×400 relay group earned All-American honors. Deng was a member of the All-American relay team in 2013. 
“I’ve been working on my relay all year, and it’s exciting to finally see 
everything come together,” Deng said. “Whenever you can reach your goal, it’s a good thing.” 
The 4×100 relay team was missed qualifying by one place, finishing 13th. Still, its time of 40.08 was the second-fastest in school history.
Senior Sean Donnelly earned a spot in the championships — his first trip to the Division I NCAA Championships — for the hammer throw. Donnelly finished in fourth at the preliminary with a mark of 66.34 meters. 
Redshirt junior Mitch Hechsel qualified for the championship meet in the 800-meter run with a sixth-place finish.
“It’s everything that I worked for all year,” Hechsel said. “Coming from a down performance in the Big Tens personally, it was just like everything was coming together at the right time, and it was an awesome feeling.”
Junior Luca Wieland attempted to qualify for the championships in the high jump and long jump. Wieland finished 16th in the long jump and did not compete in the high jump due to a tweaked hamstring that he 
suffered earlier in the meet, Plasencia said.
The six Minnesota athletes will compete in the four-day meet starting June 8 in Eugene, Ore., with big goals in mind. 
“We would like to come back with All-American status, so that would 
be a good goal,” Plasencia said. “We just make sure that each of the 
individuals we have 
competing, [Donnelly], Mitch Hechsel and the 4×400 all have their best days, and if that happens, the 
program will come out looking as good as it can.”