Minnesota prepares for NCAA Regional

Grant Donald

The college track and field scene has seen a lot of Gophers multi-event athlete Luca Wieland over the last couple months after the sophomore took home the national and Big Ten title in the heptathlon and the Big Ten title in the decathlon last week. But as the NCAA West Regional track prepares to take place this weekend; Wieland will be nowhere near Austin, Texas as he already wrapped up a bid to the NCAA championships. Instead, 16 Gophers will make the trip south in search for that qualifying finish for the championships âÄì and a chance to make a name for themselves. âÄúAs a team, the Big Ten championships are obviously our biggest meet. But as an individual, you would be hard pressed to find a more significant meet then the one this weekend,âÄù head coach Steve Plasencia said. âÄúI know each of those 16 men have their eyes on a place in [the NCAA championships].âÄù In order to advance past this weekend, the Gophers six throwers, two high jumpers and six runners will have to boast a mark or time in the top-12 of not only their West regional but also the East regional âÄì a total of 98 athletes for each event. Minnesota is also sending its 4×400 relay team to the West regional. They too will have to run a top-12 time, but will have significantly less people to surpass as only 48 relay teams qualify for the two regionals. âÄúItâÄôs definitely a tough mountain to climb,âÄù thrower Gian Ferretti said. âÄúYou just try and not think about it. The key is being loose and the rest will take care of itself. Ferretti âÄì a sophomore from Cascina, Italy âÄì has arguably the best chance of any Gophers competing this weekend to join Wieland at the NCAA championships. After already setting the Gophers program record in the hammer throw earlier this season, Ferretti enters the regional meets with the eighth best throw in the nation. âÄúIt definitely helps my confidence knowing that my best throw, was my one from Big Ten championships,âÄù Ferretti said. âÄúAt the same time, it only matters what you throw this weekend. Maybe itâÄôs going to be windy or rainy. Either way, IâÄôll be ready.âÄù While this will be FerrettiâÄôs first time competing at NCAA regionals and potentially the championships, the same canâÄôt be said for the Gophers 4×400 relay team. The team âÄì which finished 16th at last yearâÄôs West regional âÄì returns redshirt sophomores Nate Roese and Mitch Hechsel and junior Goaner Deng. Redshirt sophomore Rashawn Fountain rounds out the squad that will rely heavily on experience. Not only will Deng be looking to help his relay team qualify for the championships, but he will also compete in the 800-meter dash for the second straight year.