Outdoor season provides fresh start

Minnesota is coming off its worst Big Ten indoor meet showing under Phil Lundin.

David McCoy

Minnesota’s men’s track and field team can’t exactly say it’s riding its indoor season success into the outdoor season.

That’s because there wasn’t much success to go around.

The Gophers finished fifth at the Big Ten Indoor Championships – their worst yet under coach Phil Lundin – along with a 34th-place finish at the NCAA Indoor Championships.

But in a rebuilding year, at least Minnesota can take encouragement from having a history of faring better in the outdoor season.

“After we up in cold country have been confined indoors, we don’t take being outdoors for granted like some Southern schools,” Lundin said. “We blossom.”

The Gophers took second in both last year, and since Lundin took over in 1996, Minnesota has tied or finished better at the Big Ten outdoors than the Big Ten indoors every year.

Lundin said the biggest reason for that is the outdoor competitions include several events, such as the discus and javelin, that are not done indoors. And those are events Minnesota has a history of success in.

That trend will be expounded this year, as the loss of several world-class runners to graduation, including Mitch Potter and Adam Steele, puts a much bigger burden on the Gophers field-event athletes.

And while in years past Minnesota has had a fairly even balance of strength between the running and field events, this year calls for throwers such as senior Andy Tilstra to shoulder the load.

“I think definitely there is more pressure with the loss of Potter and Steele,” Tilstra said. “They were big point-scorers. There’s a feeling among us throwers that there’s slack for us to pick up. We don’t see it as a burden but as an obligation.”

Tilstra said it has been tough on him and the other seniors to be part of a rebuilding team, but that hasn’t kept them from individual success.

Tilstra and junior Bryant Howe qualified for Midwest Regionals in the discus and high jump, respectively, in the first outdoor meet of the season during the weekend at the Baldy Castillo Invitational in Tempe, Ariz. And senior Travis Brandstatter earned All-America honors in the heptathlon by taking fourth at this year’s NCAA indoor meet.

But as Minnesota begins to work toward making 2005 its 10th year with a better outdoor season than indoor season, hopes are high for making that a reality.

And that disappointing indoor season just might have helped.

“The fact that we’ve had all the training now, we’re more confident – especially the younger guys,” Brandstatter said. “The college atmosphere can be intimidating, but the indoor season lets them get things together. We love getting outdoors, and it gives us more incentive to do better. The fresh air is enlightening.”

Howe is athlete of week

Howe was named Big Ten athlete of the week Monday for his regional qualifying mark of 7-0 1/2 in the high jump in Tempe. Howe was a Big Ten indoor champion this year.