Relays highlight Drake for men

Minnesota’s 4×1,600-meter relay team finished first in the Drake Relays.

Matt Anderson

DES MOINES, Iowa – When Ryan Ford took the baton from Trent Riter, he had only his ears to tell him about the rest of the field.

Anchoring Minnesota’s men’s track and field 4×1,600-meter relay team Friday at the Drake Relays, Ford was staked to a lead heading into the relay’s final four laps. Ford said he could judge where the pursuing runners were only by when the crowd at Drake Stadium roared.

Fortunately for the Gophers, the race’s last crowd roar came when Ford crossed the finish line first, in 16 minutes 42.46 seconds.

The 4×1,600 relay team highlighted the weekendlong Drake Relays for Minnesota, in which the Gophers took home five top-five finishes.

“When you’re out in front like that, you’re just kind of running scared,” Ford said of his anchor leg. “You’re just hoping that you don’t feel it at the back of you and hope that you have enough at the end just to get rid of them, because you know those guys behind you are just working together to get you.”

The relay team was near the front of the pack in third place after Ryan Malmin’s opening leg, and after Ben Hanson finished the second 1,600 in third place, Riter was able to open up a lead when he passed Notre Dame and Texas Tech on his leg.

As Ford ran the relay’s final leg, Malmin prepared for the Drake Stadium victory lap by taking off the warm-ups he put on after his part of the relay.

“I knew his kick was coming,” Malmin said. “I was getting ready.”

Most of the Gophers’ success in Iowa came in relay events. The sprint medley relay of Jason Erickson, Andy Newman, Vince Donahoe and Hanson placed fourth in 3:25.58 on Saturday, while the distance medley relay team of Ford, Donahoe, Riter and Erik Grumstrup finished in second place Saturday with a time of 9:41.58.

The distance medley team led for most of the relay’s last leg before it was overtaken on the homestretch by champion Illinois.

Although Minnesota faltered some in the individual events, taking its other three top-fives in the high jump, the cold and windy weather that plagued the entire weekend left coach Phil Lundin relatively unconcerned with his team heading to the end of the season, he said.

“The conditions are such that it was kind of hard to get real good performances,” Lundin said. “It’s a typical Drake. It’s a typical competition; there’s a mixed bag of results. But I still feel good about where we’re heading in regards to the Big Ten meet.”

Women solid again

Minnesota women’s track and field coach Gary Wilson received congratulations from Drake Relays attendees all weekend on his induction into the Drake Relays Coaches Hall of Fame.

At the end of the event, it was Wilson’s turn to congratulate his young team on another solid weekend of competition.

The Gophers turned in two school-record performances in a third-place 4×1,600 of 19:41.28 and a fifth-place 11:26.68 in the distance-medley relay. The school records highlighted eight top-eight finishes for Minnesota.

“They’ve just got a lot of heart,” Wilson said. “There’s just great fight in these kids. No matter where they go, it’s just like, ‘Oh, OK, this is a track meet. Let’s go and kick some butt.’ “

Ladia Albertson-Junkans, Gabriele Anderson and Emily Brown ran on both record-setting relays. Katie Grundman finished out the distance medley team, while Carly Emil ran the 4×1,600.

Freshmen Liz Podominick and Ruby Radocaj turned in strong performances in throwing events, with Podominick winning top-seven finishes in the shot put and discus, and Radocaj taking sixth in the javelin.

“We’re in good shape,” Wilson said. “They brought great attitudes as usual, and it’s just been a fun group the whole year. I couldn’t ask for anything more from the group.”