Minnesota women’s track and field coach Gary Wilson has seen it all before.
He recalls two seasons ago when the Gophers were only expected to score in the 70’s at the Big Ten championships. Wilson’s team went out and totaled 118 points, losing out to champion Indiana by only 17 team points.
Now heading into the 2002 conference meet Wilson sees similarities between the 2000 and 2002 seasons.
“I think we will be in the top three,” Wilson said. “We will put people in the jumps and we might double or triple some. Right now we are projected at about 70 points, but I think we will be over 100. We always respond like that. It’s pretty normal.”
The Gophers host the Minnesota Qualifier this weekend before heading to Madison, Wis. for the Big Ten Championships, May 17-19.
According to Wilson, the Hoosiers and Michigan are the clear-cut favorites in the conference field, followed by Purdue and Minnesota.
“Those two teams have too many seniors” Wilson said. “They have too much firepower. It’s going to be a dogfight. We have a young group and I would be thrilled with a third place finish.
“But, next year I think you will see a flip-flop of the conference. We have had a great recruiting year and we have all but four scoring kids coming back. Right now, we are a good team. Next year we will be a great one. We are on the brink of doing something really special.”
While Wilson believes Minnesota will challenge for a third place finish and top 100 team points, his excitement has been tempered by a tough 2002 season.
Another similarity struck Wilson, this time with the 2001 cross-country season. He said his squad mimicked the cross-country team by crawling to a slow start, being interrupted by outside circumstances, but finishing on a strong note.
The cross-country season was interrupted by the attacks on Sept. 11 and the death of Penn State pole-vaulter Kevin Dare at the Big Ten indoor championships shocked the track world.
“Training has been abysmal,” Wilson said. “But, I am very happy with how these kids have responded. With the travel, weather, the death of Kevin Dare and the events of September 11 they have taken some big emotional and physiological hits.”
Through it all, Minnesota has continued to answer the bell as several Gophers have a shot at individual conference titles.
Sophomore Tahesia Harrigan is the conference’s top runner in the 100-meter dash while boasting the third best time in the 200-meter dash.
Junior Shani Marks ranks third in the 400-meter hurdles and fifth in the triple jump. Freshman Barbora Spotakova is fourth in the javelin and each of Minnesota’s relay teams are in the top three in the conference.
“We have quite a few athletes who have shots at individual titles,” Wilson said. “We have several athletes in the top five rankings who all could perform well enough to get a win. But, it all depends on what happens on that particular day.
“Our focus is always on the Big Ten meet. We enjoy having individual titles and getting athletes into the national championships, but that is just icing on the cake. We look for team performance.”
At this point in the season, the Gophers have only two provisional qualifiers for the NCAA meet.
Harrigan currently has the seventh fastest time in the 100 this season, making her a virtual lock for nationals.
Meanwhile, Spotakova is a provisional qualifier in the javelin but the distance of 48.75 meters she threw at the Mt. SAC Relays on April 21 is only good enough for 21st in the nation.
Wilson believes Spotakova could improve a few inches to make her case stronger, but thinks she has a good shot at competing in the championships.
Despite seeing the similarities between this squad and the 2000 team, there is one big difference. Wilson’s outdoor team finished third the following year, the expectations for next year might be slightly
Brian Hall covers track and field and
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