Relay record highlights Drake Relays trip

David McCoy

DES MOINES, Iowa – As the start gun fired smoke into the rainy sky at Drake Stadium, Minnesota’s women’s track and field runner Jamie Cheever started off the 4-by-1,600-meter relay by taking the Gophers into the lead.

Runners from Missouri and Michigan passed Cheever on the final leg, but her initial effort was enough to give teammates Heather Dorniden, Ladia Albertson-Junkans and Emily Brown what they needed to finish the race strong.

How strong? To use a rather informal phrase – they smoked ’em.

The four not only broke Minnesota’s school record set a year ago at the Drake Relays by more than 30 seconds, but also smashed the Drake Relays record by more than five seconds with a time of 19:10.92 on Saturday, leading an overall solid performance by the Gophers in a rain-drenched rendition of the 97th annual Drake Relays on Friday and Saturday.

“We saw other teams warming up inside, and we said, ‘No, we’re from Minnesota. We’re going to warm up outside. We’re going to have to race out there anyway,’ ” Brown said. “Minnesota, we’re bred in the elements, so we’re used to running in anything, and I think that gave us an advantage.”

After Dorniden took the baton from Cheever, she kept pace with Missouri runner Kasey Kimball as the event turned into a two-woman race.

After trailing Kimball by two strides through the first two and a half laps, Dorniden blew by her on the final leg, gaining increasing separation as she handed the baton off to Albertson-Junkans.

“I feel like I should have even pulled my kick earlier because I had a lot more left,” Dorniden said. “But I just wanted to play it safe and make sure that I gave them just a little bit of a lead but not string it out too much.”

The same pattern followed for Albertson-Junkans and Brown. Missouri runners surged into the lead in the first lap, but both Gophers runners pulled away down the stretch. Brown passed Missouri’s Amanda Bales in the final 60 meters, making for an exciting finish.

“They ran perfect,” coach Gary Wilson said. “They didn’t go too crazy in the beginning and just kind of stayed steady. We had the old woman of the group in the back with ‘Brownie’; she’s a warrior. Nothing flusters her.”

Along with its other school record-breaking performances in the distance medley and 4×800 meter relays, Minnesota’s three relay teams truly were the women’s team’s highlight of the weekend, although the distance medley relay and 4-by-800 both took second.

In Minnesota’s first relay event at Drake on Friday, Brown, Dorniden, Kadian Douglas and Julie Schwengler broke the school record in the distance medley relay, set last year at Drake, by more than 16 seconds with a time of 11:10.65.

And as the stadium lights illuminated the misty air Friday night, Cheever, Albertson-Junkans, Schwengler and Ayla Mitchell broke Minnesota’s 23-year-old 4-by-800 meter relay record in 8:41.98.

Wilson said the rain didn’t have any ill effects on his

runners at all.

“There’s been so many records set in rain,” Wilson said. “Most people don’t realize that. If you approach it right, because of the negative ions in the air, it’s much easier to transport oxygen. It’s impressive because of the mental preparation.”

In the field a pair of bests yielded a pair of Gophers sophomore throwers’ fourth-place finishes in their respective events.

Ruby Radocaj threw 160 feet, 9 inches in the javelin Friday, a personal best by more than four feet and also an NCAA regional-qualifying mark.

Liz Podominick hurled a season-best 51 feet, 10 and one-half inches Friday to

take fourth in the shot put

after finishing seventh in the discus with a 163-foot, 8-inch throw.

“I threw well in preliminaries, but in finals I was trying to work on some things and it didn’t really happen,” Podominick said of her shot put efforts. “Even though I don’t think I did things that I wanted to in the finals, it’s just trying to fight for it and do it right.”

Rounding out Minnesota’s competitors was Nina Cotolupenco in sixth in the hammer throw, while Liz Alabi was ninth in both the hammer and shot put. Dawn Solberg placed 11th in the 100-meter hurdles and Sarah Nelson, Katie Grundman, Nicole Carroll and Douglas ran a preliminary time of 46.90 seconds but did not advance to the 4-by-100-meter relay finals.