Gophers post best finish since 1968

Scott Bradley

Field events were a main reason Gophers track coach Phil Lundin believed his team could contend for this year’s Big Ten outdoor championship title.
Junior discus thrower Jason Schlueter and freshman pole vaulter Vesa Rantanen did not disappoint Sunday afternoon in University Park, Pa. Both athletes won their individual titles, leading the Gophers to second place with 104.5 points.
That is the team’s best finish since 1968 when it won the title under former head coach Roy Griak.
Wisconsin won its sixth straight Big Ten title between cross country, indoor and outdoor track, scoring 147 points. But the Gophers were without Ben Jensen, an NCAA automatic qualifier in the decathlon, and did not have any competitors in the distance running events.
Jensen underwent an emergency appendectomy last week and is still recovering. Under the circumstances, Lundin said watching his team contend for the conference championship was pleasing.
“The idea of this meet is to score points,” he said. “Earning top marks is secondary to beating people. I think some of our guys were a little disappointed with how they performed. But the fact is they beat people.”
Rantanen has provisionally qualified for the NCAAs on May 29 in Eugene, Ore., and he won the pole vault Sunday by setting a Nittany Lion track record of 17 feet, 10 ¬ inches. That was about four inches better than Purdue’s Randy Miller, who finished second.
Rantanen said the jumping conditions were the best he’s competed in so far this year. The native of Virrat, Finland has had trouble practicing and competing this spring because of the prolonged cold weather in Minnesota.
“I’m very happy with my performance,” Rantanen said. “I’ve struggled a lot in the spring, so I’m pleased that I won. The competition this weekend was good and that helped.”
Schlueter helped the Gophers continue their dominance in the field events. Schlueter has improved his personal best mark in the discus by nearly 20 feet this year. He won the conference title, throwing 185 feet.
Although Lundin expected Schlueter and Rantanen to lead the Gophers in the field events, he was surprised when Adrian Ellis, Scott Beadle, Eric Stommes and Tim VanVoorhis combined to win the 400-meter relay. The Big Ten is known throughout the country for its sprints, but the Gophers aren’t usually a threat to win those events.
Iowa was the favored relay team this weekend. The Hawkeyes held the top time in the conference (39.73 seconds) and were ranked among the nation’s top five teams heading into the weekend. The Gophers, on the other hand, were fifth in the conference.
But Iowa’s dominance ended Sunday when one of its runners erred on a handoff and then threw the baton into the track infield in disgust. The action earned the relay team a disqualification, and the Gophers capitalized by winning the race in 41.11 seconds.
“That’s more than a surprise,” Lundin said. “These little guys from Racine (Wis.), Moorhead (Minn.), Foley (Minn.) and Apple Valley (Minn.) proved they can compete against the best sprint teams in the country.”
While the Gophers may still lack depth in the sprints and distance running events, they have established themselves as powers in the field events. Badgers coach Ed Nuttycombe wasn’t surprised with Minnesota’s big finish this year.
“I think that the throwing is the thing that jumps out at you first,” Nuttycombe said. “But Minnesota is very strong in the field event area in general. That’s the heart and soul of the team.”