At this time last year, the Gophers men’s track and field team was unknowingly on the verge of making school history.
Minnesota was victorious at the Big Ten Indoor Championship for the first time ever, and coach Phil Lundin credited his team’s many “guns” for the win.
This year’s armory is not exactly empty, but the team’s hopes for repeating will rest on balanced scoring in events throughout what should be a hotly contested meet in Madison, Wis., this weekend.
“I’ve never seen this kind of parity,” Lundin said. “There are about five teams who are right there.”
As always, defending champion Minnesota will have host Wisconsin to deal with, and the “I’s” have it for a spoiler, with Illinois, Indiana and Iowa on the heels of the favorites.
But the Gophers athletes remain confident in their abilities to come out of Madison with a repeat title.
“I think our chances are good,” sophomore Bob Quade said. “I think everyone is looking forward to setting personal bests.
“Everyone here is hungry to repeat, because (before last year) we haven’t had it for such a long time.”
The Gophers return last year’s conference champions Steffan Strand and Ben Jensen to anchor the high jump and heptathlon events, respectively. The champion duo headlines the group of six other conference placewinners, which Minnesota will rely on to score the majority of this weekend’s points.
Lundin’s battle to maintain his team’s focus through injuries and illness has been fought once again this season, an all too familiar job for the fourth-year Gophers coach.
“It’s the usual situation, we just have to patch things up for the Big Ten,” Lundin said. “It’s just a matter of putting it together and keeping your eyes on the Big Ten meet, which basically defines the season.”
The cruel finality of a single meet defining a season is understood by the athletes.
“That’s the thing that makes track and field interesting,” junior Adam Freed said. “It all comes down to that one weekend.”
Though they unseated Wisconsin — winner of the six previous indoor championships — last year, Minnesota is not resting on its laurels going into this weekend.
“It feels good, but it’s a new year, and you never know what’s going to happen,” sophomore Thomas Gerding said. “We’ll be scraping again this year.”