U’s Buzard running with experienced group

Lou Raguse

As a young athlete, it never hurts to learn from a mentor. In the NFL, Steve Young learned behind Joe Montana. In the NBA, Tim Duncan tuned his skills under David Robinson.

For Minnesota’s men’s track and field team, freshman Aaron Buzard has the unique opportunity of training with seniors Adam Steele and Mitch Potter. Steele is the defending national champion in the 400-meter run. Potter finished just one-hundredth of a second behind Steele.

“You can talk all you want about training programs,” Gophers coach Phil Lundin said. “But to come in and become part of a group that’s had world-class performance levels, that alone is the best that a person can have in regards to learning the ropes.”

Lundin said that with experienced and tested veterans such as Steele and Potter leading the team, there are high expectations and added pressures for the Gophers to defend their 2003 Big Ten title.

After the NCAA Championships last summer, Steele and Potter competed in the Pan American Games, the U.S. Championships and the World Track and Field Championships at various locations around the world.

Buzard’s finish in the Gophers’ first outdoor meet at Texas A&M last weekend showed that training with the best pays off. In the College Station Relays, Buzard finished first in the 400-meter run with a time of 47.22 seconds.

“Training with (Steele and Potter) gives me a lot more confidence going into races where guys are better than me,” Buzard said.

Steele said he wouldn’t have minded being in Buzard’s current situation.

“If I was a freshman coming into the program, it would be a sweet opportunity to train with three runners with All-American status,” Steele said. “Next year, he can take over and step into our shoes.”

Lundin is currently working to make the Gophers’ transition from indoor competition to outdoor meets smooth.

“Our first outdoor competitions are pretty rough,” Lundin said. “For many of our people, it’s the first time they’ve seen a discus, javelin or hammer fly through the air since October or November. For the hurdlers, it’s the first time they’ve gone over 10 hurdles instead of five.”

Women seek leaders

Minnesota women’s track and field coach Gary Wilson also said he’s anxious to get his team outdoors and competing.

But he noted that his team, which consists of 44 freshmen and sophomores, is likely still a year away from hitting its potential.

“It’s been a while since we’ve had a team here that’s so young,” Wilson said. “But secondly, it’s been a long time since we’ve had a team that so sincerely cares about each member of the team. There are no cliques – the kids genuinely like each other.”

The Gophers captured the team title at the Texas Southern Relays last weekend, where they swept the top-five places in the 1,500-meter run. Carly Emil led the way with a time of 4:45.96.

But what pleased Wilson most was the high level of effort shown by all of his team at the meet. Because to achieve success this season, he said, the Gophers will need a lot of leaders to step forward.

Wilson said he expects the Gophers’ team-first attitude to get them through the learning process that comes with a young team.

“The chemistry is tremendous,” Wilson said. “And that’s going to go a long way towards helping us this season.”