Strand to compete in top track event

Michael Dougherty

The 1984 Summer Olympics can best be remembered for Mary Slaney’s crash with Zola Budd, which caused Slaney, the overwhelming favorite in the 3000 meters, her chance at a gold medal.
Slaney, who is now 38, will be honored for her illustrious career at this weekend’s 91st annual Millrose Games in New York.
The event, which along with the U.S. National Indoor Championships in Atlanta is considered one of the premiere indoor events in the world, will also include someone closer to home — Gophers men’s high jumper Staffan Strand.
Slaney has said of the Games, “I remember I was intimidated by the athletes I was competing against, the crowd and all the excitement that goes with the Millrose Games … just being there, because it’s one of the most prestigious indoor meets.”
Strand broke the Big Ten indoor high jump record he shared with Paul Piwinski of Michigan State on Jan. 24 at the Minnesota Invitational. He broke the former mark of 7 feet, 5 inches with a jump of 7-6 1/2.
The American indoor record is 7-10 1/2, which was set in 1991 by Hollis Conway.
Gopher men’s track and field head coach Phil Lundin said he thinks Strand has a chance to win the event.
“He could win it or he could completely blow it,” Lundin said. “It is difficult to assess his training since his big jump. But I think he’s rallying.”
While Strand heads off to New York, the rest of Lundin’s squad scatters like a box of marbles dropped on ice.
Lundin will accompany part of his 13th-ranked team to the Husker Invitational in Lincoln, Neb., while the rest of his squad goes to St. Cloud, Minn., for the Husky Invitational.
“Our primary goal (at Nebraska) is to get some people to qualify for the NCAA Championships,” Lundin said. “Niles (Deneen) is ranked ninth in the nation in the 55-meter hurdles, and I’m not sure if that will be good enough to qualify.”
Meanwhile, Gopher women’s track and field head coach Gary Wilson and his squad also head to Lincoln for the Husker Invitational.
His squad, which is coming off a disappointing performance at last weekend’s Iowa State Classic, hopes for an improved meet this weekend.
Pole vaulters Christine Gulbrandsen and Stacie Blaskowski look to continue their successful seasons by provisionally qualifying for the NCAA Championships. The mark they need is 11-1 and the two are inching closer to that mark.
Freshman Aubrey Schmitt of Hastings, Minn., also looks to continue her successful season with another strong showing in both the shot put and the 20-pound weight throw.
Schmitt has won three shot put events so far this season and has provisionally qualified for NCAAs in both the shot and the weight throw.
Baseball
The Gophers baseball team begins its non-conference season with a three-game series against Nebraska at the Metrodome.
Minnesota, which finished fifth in the Big Ten last year and compiled an overall record of 30-24, defeated the Cornhuskers 11-6 last season in the Hormel Foods Classic.
The Gophers, who lost 11 seniors to graduation, are led by returning players Robb Quinlan (outfield) and Matt Scanlon (third base) and pitchers Ben Birk and Jason Dobis.
Times for the three games are: 7 p.m. Sunday and a doubleheader beginning at 1 p.m. Monday. After the three-game series, Minnesota is not home again until March 4 against Iowa State.
Softball
The Gophers women’s softball team also opens its season with three rare February home games over the weekend.
Minnesota, which is accustomed to opening the season on the road, will host the Liberty Metrodome Softball Classic, a round-robin tournament featuring Western Illinois, Northern Iowa, Kansas and Missouri.
The Gophers are led by returning players Amber Hegland and Shannon Beeler and pitchers Steph Klaviter and Wendy Logue.
Minnesota plays at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday. The games on those days will determine when the Gophers play Sunday.