Men’s Big Ten title streak ends at five; women place seventh

Andrew Baker

The Gophers menâÄôs track team finished just 2.5 team points shy of winning its sixth consecutive conference title at the Big Ten Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Iowa City, Iowa.
The Gophers led after the second day of competition, but Iowa came roaring back May 15 âÄî the third and final day âÄî winning three events and ultimately forcing the meet to be decided by the weekendâÄôs final race: the 4×400-meter relay.
It didnâÄôt look promising for the Gophers, who led the Hawkeyes by half a point heading into the event. MinnesotaâÄôs relay team included three sophomores and one freshman, while the HawkeyesâÄô foursome featured three All-Americans.
âÄúI think everybody on our side knew that we were going into [the relay] with probably a greater chance that they would beat us than [that] we might beat them âĦ Having said that, both teams ran well in the relay,âÄù Gophers head coach Steve Plasencia said.
Iowa took second place with a time of 3 minutes 6.7 seconds, while the Gophers finished fourth in a personal record of 3 minutes, 8.12 seconds, allowing Iowa to win the meet with 125.5 total points and landing Minnesota in second place with 123.
âÄúIt was a great team effort, but we just have to work harder next year,âÄù said Harun Abda, who was part of the relay team.
Plasencia noted that although the 4×400-meter was magnified as the final and deciding event of the weekend, the team could have scored higher in any of the meetâÄôs events.  
âÄúEvents like that just hinge when itâÄôs so close on small, individual things and thatâÄôs why âĦ weâÄôve always said, âÄòHey, every point matters in the Big Ten,âÄô and obviously, in this case, it did,âÄù Abda said.
Despite having their collective wind knocked out by IowaâÄôs late surge, the Gophers had plenty of positives to take away from the weekend and the season.
Sophomore hammer throwers Quentin Mege and Micah Hegerle, for example, finished first and second respectively in Iowa City.
Hegerle, who won the event last year, said watching his teammate Mege win the event alleviated much of his personal disappointment of not defending the title.
âÄúTheyâÄôve got a really healthy relationship and they compete hard,âÄù said Lynden Reder, who coaches the Gophers throwers.
For others on the team, 2011 was a year of redemption. After suffering through an injured Achilles tendon in 2009 and missing five months this year because of a collapsed lung suffered in September, distance phenomenon Hassan Mead displayed the grit and greatness Plasencia has come to expect of him over the last four years. He won the 10,000-meter race and finished third in the 5,000-meter event in Iowa City.
Mead will compete in the latter event in
Oregon.
âÄúHassan runs with purpose,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúWhen he gets into a tough race heâÄôs a fighter and to beat him, youâÄôre going to have to do a lot.âÄù
While he was academically ineligible last year, middle distance competitor Nick Hutton was forced to watch his teammates compete from the sidelines.  This year he stormed back intothe classroom and on the track, taking third in the 800-meter run at the outdoor championships and qualifying âÄî along with four other Gophers âÄî for the NCAA preliminary round in the same event.
âÄúI see him as a leader,âÄù Abda said of his fellow 800-runner Hutton. âÄúHeâÄôs running fast and heâÄôs working hard in school, so itâÄôs really great to have him.âÄù
The Gophers plan to use the fresh, bitter taste from the Big Ten outdoor meet as motivation at the NCAAs. Strength in numbers should also prove an advantage for the team.
âÄúItâÄôs going to be a lot more fun having so many guys out there,âÄù Hutton said. âÄúHopefully weâÄôll be a little more relaxed. I think if you send only a couple guys, the pressure would be on them to represent the program.âÄù
Women
The Gophers womenâÄôs team finished seventh at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships in Iowa, and will send 16 competitors to the NCAA qualifying round in Oregon this weekend.
Like her counterparts on the menâÄôs side, GophersâÄô middle distance runner Alena Brooks felt her team could have done better in the conference championships.  
âÄúWe had some disappointing results, but I think we all tried our best,âÄù said Brooks, who finished fifth in the 400-meter dash in Iowa City and will compete in the 400-meter, 4×100- and 4×400-meter relay at the NCAA preliminary round.
The GophersâÄô distance group had a strong showing at the Big Ten. Nikki Swenson finished fourth in the 800-meter and second in the 1500-meter, Elizabeth Yetzer took eighth in the 5,000-meter and cross country standout Stephanie Price placed fifth in the 10,000-meter.
All three will represent the team in Oregon.
MenâÄôs golf
The golf season came to an end for GophersâÄô Donald Constable and Erik Van Rooyen on Saturday as they finished in ties for 42nd and 51st respectively at the NCAA West Regional in San Diego.
Constable shot a two-over 38 on the front nine and went even par on the back nine en route to a two-over 74, finishing the event at seven over par.
The senior ends his career as one of the most consistent golfers in Minnesota history.  Constable captained the team this past season and was named to the All-Big Ten Second Team.  HeâÄôll leave Minnesota with the third lowest career scoring average in program history at 73.0.
Van Rooyen shot a one-over 37 on the front nine, and followed that with a 37 on the back nine, shooting 74 and finishing the event at 11 over par.
He ends his sophomore season with eight top-20 finishes and the second lowest scoring average on the team behind Constable.

-Sam Gordon contributed to this report.