Trio of seniors lead Gophers men’s track and field

John Simons, Jon Lehman and Zach Siegmeier have all found their roles.

Minnesota senior track athletes John Simons, left, Zach Siegmeier, center, and Jon Lehman, right, stand on Bierman Track on Wednesday. All three are preparing for the Big Ten championships next week.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Minnesota senior track athletes John Simons, left, Zach Siegmeier, center, and Jon Lehman, right, stand on Bierman Track on Wednesday. All three are preparing for the Big Ten championships next week.

Megan Ryan

A trio of men lingered around the University of Minnesota’s outdated Bierman Track and Field Stadium on Wednesday afternoon.

To the untrained eye, they looked like three rather unassuming college students.

But to the Gophers men’s track and field team, they might as well be the Holy Trinity.

John Simons, the long and lean distance runner; Jon Lehman, the big and strong thrower; and Zach Siegmeier, the quick and stocky pole vaulter, have been Minnesota’s men’s track and field team’s most reliable performers all season.

They’re also the team’s best hopes for postseason titles with the Big Ten outdoor championships just one week away.

“We always felt like all three of those guys had potential, but it is just really neat to see them all take off,” assistant throws coach Lynden Reder said.

Simons, Lehman and Siegmeier will be the leaders of a young squad at the conference meet.

That’s a change from years prior, when the team had depth to spare, back-to-back Big Ten team championships and bona fide stars in the form of now-professionals Hassan Mead and Harun Abda.

“It’s exciting because it’s coming full circle,” Simons said of his new position as a team leader. “I was on the team when we used to win Big Ten championships. And I learned from those guys … that would go to the Big Ten meets and come home with trophies and medals.”

This year, Siegmeier is the only Gophers athlete seeking to defend his conference title. He bested his winning height from one year ago by about a foot earlier this season and has also broken the 18-foot barrier.

Paul Thornton, Minnesota assistant coach for hurdles, sprints and jumps, still recalls the time that Siegmeier came to his office last year asking how to become an 18-foot pole vaulter.

Thornton told Siegmeier it would be difficult but said he had to sprint faster. For Siegmeier, the switch flipped at the very next practice.

“I think the greatest strength that Zach has is his ability to take on the truth,” Thornton said.

Gophers head coach Steve Plasencia said all three of the seniors have come through rough patches in their young careers.

None of them were highly touted recruits coming out of high school, and both Simons and Siegmeier transferred into the program.

Plasencia said the reason that the three have all improved so dramatically throughout their collegiate careers isn’t something that can be taught.

“I think part of it is just that commitment that all three of them have to be the very best that they can be,” he said. “We as coaches can’t provide that. That’s kind of internal motivation.”

Siegmeier said he and his two teammates didn’t let low expectations discourage them —the opposite, in fact.

“We were never picked to be the top guys in the country — even the best guys on the team — but the three of us really, really worked hard since the day we got here,” he said. “And it’s paid off for us.”

Thornton said the fact that the three flew under the radar as recruits affected the way they now lead a team with so many young faces.

“They’re not out there necessarily just pounding on their chests just saying, ‘Look at me. Look how good I’ve gotten,’” Thornton said. “They quietly allow their performance to speak for itself.”

Reder said Lehman has come into his own this year as a fifth-year senior captain and “the guy” in throws, but Lehman said he works with Simons and Siegmeier to lead the entire team.

“I think having [John] with the [cross country runners] all the time and Zach with the hurdles, jumps and sprints guys and me with the throwers, it’s kind of like you have that leadership in each aspect,” Lehman said.

The journey to where they are now has been unexpected and arduous at times, but Simons, Lehman and Siegmeier aren’t concerned with the way they got here. Instead, they’re looking forward to what is left to come.

“It’s my last one, and I feel really good,” Lehman said of the upcoming postseason. “I think everything’s starting to come together now right at the right time, so I’m really excited.”