Minnesota off to final meets before NCAA Championships

Senior Liz Alabi and Derek Gearman earned Big Ten honors Wednesday.

Brian Deutsch

Twelve members of the Minnesota track and field teams will have one last shot to qualify for the NCAA Championships as they head to the final qualifying events this weekend.

Nine athletes on the men’s team will head to South Bend, Ind., to compete in the Alex Wilson Invitational, while three participants from the women’s team will compete in the Iowa State Qualifier.

The competitions are the last opportunities for several of the athletes to clinch a spot at next weekend’s championships, while other competitors will try to improve on their performances.

The men’s distance medley relay team of senior Aaron Buzard, junior Hans Storvick and sophomores Chris Rombough and Walter Langkau will try to qualify for the nationals in just their second race as a group.

“We’ve all practiced together and everything went fine the first time we raced,” Langkau said. “We just can’t afford to make mistakes.”

A handful of other hopeful competitors will join the relay team including freshman Aaron Studt, who will try to break the freshman record for the shot put.

Senior Adam Schnaible needs a strong performance this weekend to solidify his spot at next weekend’s nationals.

Schnaible is currently ranked No. 12 in the weight throw and is on the chopping block unless he can increase his stock this weekend.

Senior Derek Gearman has already locked in a spot at nationals in the high jump and will try to qualify for the triple jump this weekend.

Buzard has already provisionally qualified in the 400-meter dash but according to coach Phil Lundin, a strong performance this weekend could guarantee Buzard, Gearman and other athletes a spot at nationals.

“(This weekend) is very important because only the top 14 to 16 competitors make it to nationals,” Lundin said. “You have to give the kids one last shot to make it there.”

Sophomore Ibrahim Kabia already has a solid chance to make nationals in the 60-meter dash, but the sprinter will join his teammates in South Bend as he tries to improve his school record in the event, which he shattered earlier this year.

The women’s team will send three pole vaulters to Ames, Iowa, including junior Andrea Smith, the only member of the trio who has provisionally qualified for the NCAA Championships.

The school record holder for pole vaulting, Smith will try to solidify her space at nationals by reaching 4.2 meters – the automatic qualifier for the NCAA Championships.

But 4.2 is a long ways from the 3.95 meters that Smith needed to reach in order to provisionally qualify.

Freshman Alicia Rue and junior Ashley Nord will join Smith this weekend, trying to hit the qualifying mark in the pole vault.

“We could all technically make it to nationals, which would be great,” Smith said. “I’m just going to go have fun and hopefully put up some good scores.”

Athletes honored

The Gophers earned three awards Wednesday as the Big Ten honored seniors Liz Alabi and Derek Gearman as well as women’s interim coach Matt Bingle.

Alabi, who holds the school record for shot put at 52 feet 10 3/4 inches, was named the Big Ten Women’s Field Athlete of the Year after her performance last weekend at the Big Ten Championships.

The senior set career bests in two events that she went on to win – the shot put and the weight throw. The Gophers also took home the team title.

“This team was made two or three years ago with training and recruiting,” Bingle said. “Everyone is playing their part and taking care of business.”

Bingle earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors after guiding the Gophers to their first-ever Big Ten Indoor Championships in his first year at the helm.

“It’s a great honor for me but it is based on the girls, coaches and family effort,” Bingle said. “I might get the award but it’s for the team.”

Gearman, the only men’s team member to earn an award, was named the Big Ten Men’s Field Athlete of the Championships after placing in the high jump, long jump and triple jump.