Track takes 3rd at Big Ten meet

When Minnesota’s Jessica Shuster crossed the finish line to complete the 4 X 400 relay, she was met with a hug and a high-five from Gophers coach Gary Wilson.
Minnesota’s fourth-place finish in the event clinched a school-best third-place finish in the 2000 Big Ten indoor track and field championships Sunday at the University Field House.
The Gophers’ 80 points trailed champion Indiana (150) and Wisconsin (112) but still set a record for Minnesota.
Throughout the two-day meet, the Gophers — who use the championships more as preparation for the upcoming outdoor season — had a balanced attack, scoring in 13 of the 18 events.
“We had a lot of kids that stepped up and did what they could in the heat of battle,” Wilson said. “This is going to give them tremendous confidence to go outside with.”
Minnesota senior Christine Gulbrandsen, who is normally one of the Gophers’ lone weapons to score team points at the indoors, placed first in the triple jump and fourth in the pole vault.
But she shied away from giving credit to herself and instead, commended the team effort.
“Usually, it’s been a few people scoring all the points, but this time it was everyone,” Gulbrandsen said. “We have lots of legs.”
And some strong arms, too. Gophers junior Aubrey Schmitt placed second in both the shot put and weight throw.
In the weight throw, she was bettered only by teammate Beth Howard, who set a meet record with a toss of 64-feet, 1 3/4-inches.
Like Gulbrandsen, Schmitt was quick to spread the wealth of credit among her teammates.
“Everyone’s coming together at the right time,” Schmitt said. “The third-place finish has really gotten my hopes up for the outdoors.”
After finishing seventh at last year’s conference indoors and third at outdoors, Wilson was very pleased with Sunday’s accomplishment — especially because Minnesota doesn’t tend to peak until the outdoor championship in the late spring.
Wilson says the Gophers’ balanced attack is a sign things are on the right track for the Gophers. But he’s hoping Sunday’s showing won’t be a disappointment come outdoor season.
“We better not be seventh at outdoors,” Wilson said. “This better not flip-flop.”
Another bright spot for the Gophers was senior Apasha Blocker, who placed sixth in the pentathalon.
Wilson said Blocker made the decision to compete in the event just 10 minutes prior to the deadline Friday.
Her decision certainly paid off with three points for Minnesota. The Gophers needed every one of those points — seventh-place Illinois was just five points behind Minnesota.
But the Gophers are hoping they won’t have to worry about seventh place at the Big Ten outdoor championship.
Said Wilson of the competition when the teams head into the outdoor season: “Indiana is going to be a bitch to catch outside, but I think we can do it.”
Men’s Track and Field
At the men’s indoor championships down in Bloomington, Ind., the Gophers found themselves in a similar situation to the women.
With Wisconsin well ahead of the pack, Minnesota was deep in a race for second place with Illinois.
But when the Illini placed first in the 4 X 400, the Gophers ended up on the short end for the battle for silver — by a half of a point.
Illinois ended with 82.5 while Minnesota tallied 82 and finished third.
“We were sick; we thought we would be second,” Minnesota coach Phil Lundin said.
After going to Indiana with 16 freshmen and sophomores, Lundin said there was a little trepidation.
But with a third-place team finish, three Big Ten champions and balanced placements up and down the roster, Lundin was pleased with the results.
“The young guys competed strong and in some cases, had no business placing with (the more experienced athletes),” he said.
Minnesota junior Tom Gerding became Minnesota’s first Big Ten champion of the meet, clocking a time of 1:18.20 in the 600-meter dash.
The Gophers were the team champions in the distance medley with a time of 9:50.14.
The third Minnesota champion was sophomore Andrew McKessock, who turned yesterday. McKessock ran the mile in 4:11.08 to place first.
“Andy has demonstrated that he is a definite national caliber middle-distance runner,” Lundin said. “He gave himself a good present and was gracious to share it with everyone.”

John R. Carter welcomes comments at [email protected]