Minnesota sends 18 athletes to NCAA Championships

by Chris Lempesis

Minnesota’s women’s track and field team will bring nine competitors to this week’s NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Sacramento, Calif., which runs today through Saturday.

And while that number is the largest in school history – besting the previous record of seven in 2001 – team members and coaches say it’s not all about quantity, but also quality.

“Everyone just has so much talent that it’ll be exciting,” said sophomore Julie Schwengler – who earned an at-large spot in the 800-meter run at NCAAs. “Everybody’s going to be in the hunt to make the finals in every event that they’re in.”

Coach Gary Wilson agreed with Schwengler’s assessment and named three team members – sophomore Liz Roehrig (heptathlon), freshman Heather Dorniden (800-meter run) and junior Emily Brown (3000-meter steeplechase) – whom he felt had legitimate shots to score high.

Dorniden might have the best chance, seeing as she was the winner of the 800 meters at the recent NCAA Midwest Regionals in Austin, Texas, and the NCAA Indoor Championships in March.

“She’s got as good a shot as any,” Wilson said of Dorniden. “I wouldn’t trade her, let’s put it that way. The way she’s been training, the way she is handling things – I wouldn’t trade her for anybody else.”

However, things could be a little dicey for the Gophers outside those top three. As Wilson said, “We’ve got a whole bunch of kids that are kind of right on that bubble.”

That said, Wilson did say he thinks there are a couple of possible dark horses on his squad who could surprise the field, such as sophomores Andrea Smith (pole vault) and Liz Podominick (shot put).

When all is said and done, Wilson said he feels his team has a good shot to score between 12 and 25 team points.

But he was quick to say the team has no goals as far as the overall standings, instead focusing on individual performances because there are so many variables that come into play with regard to team standings.

“Our best finish, nationally, has been 18th (the Gophers finished 18th in 1990 and tied for 18th in 1991) or something like that, and we’d certainly like to beat that,” Wilson said. “But you just don’t know.”

Schwengler also said that wasn’t something the team had really talked about, but that if the individual quality they believe in is there in Sacramento, everything will work out fine.

“I think that when everybody just does their job, that things will fall into place where they’re supposed to be as a team,” she said.

Men ready for NCAAs

Minnesota’s men’s track and field team also will be bringing a group of nine competitors to Sacramento, and, much like the women’s team, the Gophers are excited with where they’re at.

“It’s a nice group of guys,” coach Phil Lundin said, “and they’ll all have chances to be All-Americans and that would be special.”

While he likes the group as a whole, Lundin said he felt a couple of team members, namely seniors Karl Erickson (shot put and discus), Kevin Netzer (high jump), John Albert (high jump) and junior Aaron Buzard (400-meter dash), have particularly strong chances of finishing well.

Buzard – winner of the 400 meters at the recent NCAA Midwest Regionals in Austin, Texas – said he expects the 400 to be a key event because of its depth. He listed Louisiana State University sophomore Xavier Carter and Indiana junior David Neville Jr. as his top competition.

Buzard also said lane position will be crucial for him.

“I think it’s very important for me, especially,” he said. “If I could have those guys on my outside, it would help me tremendously.”

Buzard – along with redshirt freshmen Adewole Adebayo and Walter Langkau and sophomore Jason Erickson – is also on Minnesota’s 4-by-400 meter relay team, a group that surprised many by reaching the NCAAs.

But Buzard said the group won’t just be happy to be in Sacramento.

“We just want to get to the finals,” he said. “I think we’re the lowest seed going in. But it doesn’t matter. We surprised a lot of people and got to the national meet, so hopefully we can keep on doing that.”

And if enough of the nine turn in strong showings, Lundin said a top-15 finish is not unreachable.

“I think we’d like to look at the possibility of a top-15 finish,” Lundin said. “That would be something that Ö I think we’re capable of doing that, and I guess that’s what we’re going to shoot for.”