Women’s track ready

by David La

When a coach proclaims a team his “best ever,” such a statement can usually be written off as mere positive sentiment.
But this year, Minnesota women’s track and field coach Gary Wilson can make such a claim with conviction.
The Gophers squad heading to West Lafayette, Ind., for the Big Ten outdoor track and field championships this weekend features a school-record nine athletes who have recorded 11 NCAA provisional or automatic qualifying standards.
That core of competitors could lift Minnesota near the top of the Big Ten rankings, but the Gophers will likely find their access restricted by pre-meet favorites Wisconsin, Purdue and Michigan.
“It’s one of the toughest years across the board in terms of strength in all events,” Wilson said. “It’s also maybe the most parity-filled year since 1992, when there were 20 points between second and eighth place.”
If the margin of victory does indeed prove minimal, the pendulum might swing the way of host Purdue, a possibility not lost on Boilermakers coach Ben Paolillo.
“I think most of us before the meet will sit there and say (being at home) will be a big advantage, but I’ll tell you after the meet if it was or not,” Paolillo said. “We’re hoping that it makes about a 10-point difference, and we think that who wins the meet may do so by that much.”
Wilson also said Purdue will have an advantage performing in the comfortable surroundings of Rankin Track Stadium.
“Being at home is usually worth a place in the standings,” Wilson said. “As far as I’m concerned, Purdue and Wisconsin are definitely the favorites.”
The Boilermakers are still adjusting to their newfound status as a favorite, based on their second-place finish at the indoor championships in February.
“We’ve been around the No. 4, 5, or 6 spot in the conference and all of a sudden to jump up to No. 2,” Paolillo said. “I think it got people’s attention a little.”
Purdue’s success has gotten the attention of Illinois, which, like Minnesota, considers itself a team vying for a solid finish in a meet that should be Purdue or Wisconsin’s to lose.
“I think that our success is going to depend on two things: us doing the best that we can do, but also some people are going to have to make some mistakes,” Illini coach Gary Winckler said. “Wisconsin is going to have to stub their toe a few times, and probably Purdue as well. They just look like they’re a notch up on everybody right now.”
To say the Gophers have their work cut out for them this weekend is an understatement. Having a plethora of athletes capable of Big Ten-best finishes has Wilson confident, but he said he remains fully aware of his team’s pluses and minuses.
“With most track champions, you’ve got a ton of No. 1, 2 and 3 finishers,” Wilson said. “That’s why we’re not the favorite, because we’ve got some holes.
“You obviously can do a helluva lot of damage up on top because there just aren’t enough depth points to nickel and dime it.”
Though the Big Ten championships are a recognized season pinnacle, Wilson would like his “best ever” group to keep some perspective on a larger goal.
“You can want all this and go after it hard,” Wilson said, “But be satisfied that you did everything you possibly could to win.”