Gophers men’s track and field coach Phil Lundin narrows down the favorites to win this weekend’s Big Ten Championships about as good as Robert Traylor narrows his waistline.
He managed to “slim” the list of favorites down to five: Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and host Purdue.
Lundin, who has led the Gophers to third-place finishes in his first two seasons here, said, “We could win it all.”
The Gophers chances of preventing Wisconsin from capturing its fourth straight championship rest on the legs of Niles Deneen and Staffan Strand.
Deneen has five individual titles this season in the 55-meter hurdles, with a season-best time of 7.31 seconds. Lundin says that his race will be a good one to watch.
“Niles’ meet is going to be very competitive because a guy from Indiana ran a 7.24, and a kid from Iowa ran a 7.32,” he said.
Meanwhile, Strand leads the strongest high-jumping team in the nation with his Big Ten record jump of 7 feet, 6 1/2 inches five weeks ago.
The Gophers are the only team in the Big Ten to have a jumper clear seven feet in a meet. Wil Kurth, Tyler McCormick, Marc Johannsen and Strand have all done it this year for Minnesota.
While the Gophers look to those athletes for individual titles, Lundin is more concerned with rolling up points for the team competition. For this, he looks to his throwing team.
“That’s always been a very stable part of our point procurement,” Lundin said. “Indiana has got first and second, but Chad Yenchensky and Adam Reed are very capable of winning (the shot put).”
Yenchensky and Reed have both set personal bests in the shot put over the past couple of weeks, and each has provisionally qualified for the NCAAs with those throws.
The meet takes place in West Lafayette, Ind., on Saturday and Sunday.
Women’s track and field
Head coach Gary Wilson is a bit more specific than Lundin when he lists the favorites to win the women’s Big Ten Championships in East Lansing, Mich., this weekend.
Wilson said Illinois, Michigan and defending champion Wisconsin will be fighting for the title at the old Jenison Field House — a venue that Wilson calls “pretty suspect.”
Jenison Field House was built in 1940 and was home to the basketball teams at Michigan State until 1989, when a new arena was built for the hoopsters. But the track and field events continue to be held in Jenison.
“I’ve been here 13 years and we’ve never ran indoors there,” Wilson said. “I’ve heard that (the facilities) are not too stellar. In fact, I think the last time they were refurbished, (former head coach) Roy Griak was in his first year at Minnesota (1963).”
Yet, despite the less-than-spectacular venue, Wilson’s squad limps into the Big Tens depleted by injuries that are too numerous to list.
So with a trimmed-down team, Wilson looks to his jumpers and shot putters for help.
Sophomore Christine Gulbrandsen has a chance to win the triple jump and the pentathlon. She is also one of the top pole vaulters in the conference, but the Big Ten will not begin to recognize the event until next season.
The 20-pound weight throw is similar in that it won’t be included in the Big Ten meet until next season. However, it will be an exhibition event this year, so Wilson will be bringing his three-woman squad to the meet to gain some experience.
While he is happy to see the weight throw get in, Wilson doesn’t understand the conference’s reluctance to allow pole vaulting as an exhibition event as well.
“Only three of the coaches wanted it in this year,” he said. “I don’t understand it — no wait I do — logic does not always come into the brains of track coaches.”
With the pole vault out, and the weight throw only an exhibition, Wilson is looking to freshman Aubrey Schmitt to score some much-needed points in the shot put. Schmitt, from Hastings, Minn., has provisionally qualified for the NCAAs six different times this season.