U’s Rantanen wins indoor track title

by Michael Dougherty

To hear college sports news coming from Indiana in the middle of March would normally conjure up images of college basketball and March Madness.
However, junior pole vaulter Vesa Rantanen was the story out of the Hoosier state, at least as far as the Gophers were concerned, as he came home with an NCAA title, winning the event at the NCAA Indoor championships in Indianapolis.
Rantanen, who took sixth place last year, tied a school record with his winning height of 18 feet, 2 1/2 inches. That mark was equaled by five other athletes, but Rantanen won because of fewer misses.
The school record he tied is held by senior Tye Harvey, who claimed All-American honors with his 12th-place finish. His mark of 17-4 1/2 was the eight best for an American.
Although Harvey didn’t do as well as he has in the past, his performance is particularly impressive considering he has had to come back from a broken wrist suffered during a car crash on his way to the Big Ten championships last season in Illinois.
“It’s quite a success story from a guy who last June we wondered if he would ever vault again,” Gophers head coach Phil Lundin said.
Lundin, who last week was named Big Ten Coach of the Year on the heels of Minnesota’s first Big Ten Indoor championship ever, considers Rantanen’s title impressive.
“To have an individual champion is always very, very special,” he said. “It’s pretty tough to win an individual NCAA title. It is really something.”
Lundin said he did not think that Rantanen was vaulting at his best, but is proud of his athlete’s perseverance.
“That was only like the third or fourth competition of the winter,” Lundin said. “He had some hamstring problems earlier, so we have been conservative.
The Gophers, who finished 10th at last year’s NCAAs, took 14th place this year, which is something Lundin was a bit disappointed with.
“I thought if everybody performed like the marks they had coming in, and we goosed it a little bit, we might get a top 10 finish,” he said.
However, Staffan Strand continued his lackluster jumping with a fourth-place finish. While a lackluster effort from Strand is like a 25-point night from Michael Jordan, Lundin needed a better performance from him for the team to finish higher.
He owns the Big Ten record in the high jump with a 7-6 1/2 jump in late January, but he has been struggling with his approach since. Nonetheless, he still cleared 7-3 3/4.
Now that the indoor season is over, Lundin turns his attention to the outdoor season.
“What other sport has three seasons a year?” Lundin asked. “Wrestling is done — they’ve got it made. Swimming — their done — they get to go golfing all summer. What do I do? I gear up for another season.”
Women’s track and field
Gophers freshman Aubrey Schmitt finished 11th in the shot put at the NCAA Indoor Championships.
Schmitt is the first Gopher woman to compete in the shot put at the NCAAs since school record holder Rachel Lewis did it in 1991, and only the third Minnesota freshman to ever make it.
Her throw of 50-4 3/4 was two feet short of her personal best set last weekend.
Teri Tunks of Southern Methodist University won the event with a throw of 60-5 1/4.