Gophers play it cool before Big Ten meet

by Susan Filkins

The Gophers’ last regular season track meet, called the Minnesota Last Chance Meet, should have been titled the “Minnesota Last Chance Meet for all teams except the Gophers.”
“It was a hell of a day if you’re a Division II or Division III athlete, because a lot of those kids qualified,” Gophers coach Gary Wilson said.
The Bierman Track and Field Stadium was filled Saturday with teams from the greater Minnesota area. Those teams used the meet to compete against the Division I Gophers and increase their own marks to qualify for the NCAA championships.
Minnesota, on the other hand, held back in their final competitive meet before the Big Ten championships this weekend in Champaign, Ill.
Wilson said most of his athletes did not compete in their specialized events in order to assure they will be healthy and ready to go at the conference meet.
With this mentality heading into the meet, only a few Gophers took first-place finishes in their events over the smaller schools.
The 4×100 relay team of sophomore Kim Heath, sophomore Yvette White, junior Shellie Braggs and sophomore Apasha Blocker won with a time of 47.02.
Other first-place finishes for Minnesota were characteristic. Blocker won the long jump with a leap of 18 feet, 1 3/4 inches. Freshman Nicole Chimko won the javelin throw with a mark of 148-8. Chimko’s throw was almost 11 feet farther than the next closest competitor.
The shot put competition ended with no surprises. Senior Dani Parkos, who has already provisionally qualified for the NCAAs, won the event with a throw of 49-1 3/4. Her teammate, sophomore Tina McDonald, came in second with a throw of 46-4.
Minnesota freshman Aubrey Schmidt, who began the year as a redshirt, tied Parkos for second place in the discus with a throw of 159-3. McDonald placed fifth and Chimko finished sixth.
Wilson said he was also proud of a couple of his athletes who did not take first place in their events but made progress regardless.
He mentioned freshman Natalie Smith’s third-place performance in the 400 with a time of 57.85 seconds, dropping four seconds from her average time. He also mentioned senior Keri Zweig who ran her best 1,500 of the season with a third-place finish and a time of 4:47.49.
“Last week she dropped out of the 3,000 meter race in tears and saying, `Oh my God, this was the last race of my life’ and she was just a mess,” Wilson said. “Today she came back, and it just shows what a difference in mental state can do.”
Wilson said the meet provided some of his athletes an opportunity to compete before the Big Tens, but he said he feels they are prepared.
“I think we’re all ready to go to the Big Ten meet,” Wilson said. “A month ago we were sick of being on the road now we’re sick of being at home. You know, you can never please track athletes.”
The Gophers will use the week of practice to do a little sharpening and some technical work before they head down to Champaign for the Big Tens.
Blocker let everyone know Saturday that she is ready for the conference meet by shaving her head.
“Cute isn’t it?” Wilson said. “One day she had it cut about five inches long, and then the other day it was zero inches long. I’m just glad I don’t have any hair so I don’t have to spend any money or time on it.”