Minnesota freshmen create early spark

Emma Spagnola holds the program record in the 60-meter hurdles.

Grant Donald

Each year, head coach Matt Bingle never truly knows how his newest team members will adapt to competing at the collegiate level.

But this year he knew exactly what he had with a handful of freshmen, and so far they’ve lived up to his high expectations.

“[Emma] Spagnola came here as one of the top runners in the country in the 400-[meter] hurdles, and Agnes [Esser] and Heta [Tuuri] competed in the world juniors competition,” Bingle said. “We knew that they could do some good things for us right away.”

With three meets in the books, these freshmen have already left their mark on the Gophers track team, highlighted by Spagnola setting the program record — twice — in the 60-meter hurdles.

But even amid a historic streak, Spagnola has also received a sort of reality check as she has finished second in both races, despite setting a program record.

“I was pretty upset when I finished second in both races,” Spagnola said. “During both races, I set personal records, so it was still exciting, but at the same time, I saw what was needed to win those races. I can definitely get there.”

Although Esser and Tuuri’s situation may be different than Spagnola — both are field athletes — they have experienced a similar reality check, as the two freshmen have finished second in their events at one point in the young season.

While these three athletes are some of the more experienced freshmen for the Gophers, Bingle said he’s also excited to see how the other freshmen perform early in their collegiate careers.

“It’s exciting to watch the young people kind of fit in early in the season,” Bingle said. “They still have a lot to do, and they have a long ways to go, but the way they have handled the grind of collegiate track has been great.”

One of the under-the-radar freshmen for the Gophers is sprinter Emerald Egwim.

Egwim, who ran a 56.78 second 400-meter dash time for Minnesota at last weekend’s Jack Johnson Classic, may not have the accolades like Spagnola, but she said she’s excited for the opportunity to make her own mark at Minnesota.

“I just feel so blessed to have this opportunity to compete at this level,” Egwim said. “I never thought track would take up as much of my life as it does now. I like it.”

Spagnola agreed with Egwim that the biggest adjustment to running at the collegiate level is the time commitment. However, Bingle has been impressed so far with how they have adapted to life on and off the track.

Egwim said the secret behind their quick adaptation to the college scene can be traced back to last year and has carried them throughout their early season successes.

“Me and Emma and some other freshmen showed up to some captains’ practices last year where we really started to get to know each other,” Egwim said. “Now we know that we need to push each other to get better.”