Track wraps up season at NCAAs

The men’s and women’s track teams ended their seasons at Drake.

Gopher's junior Hassan Mead runs sprints during morning practice on Tuesday at Bierman and Track Field Complex.

Zoe Prinds-Flash

Gopher’s junior Hassan Mead runs sprints during morning practice on Tuesday at Bierman and Track Field Complex.

Andrew Baker

The Gophers menâÄôs and womenâÄôs track & field teams capped off the 2010-2011 season at the NCAA Outdoor Track Championships in Iowa City, Iowa last week. 

After relatively disheartening team finishes at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships in May, several of the Minnesota athletes who qualified for the NCAA meet at Iowa CityâÄôs Drake Stadium turned out career performances.

The menâÄôs 4X400 relay team of Jacob Capek, Harun Abda, Kevin Bradley and John Holton, redeemed its fourth place Big Ten Championships with a vengeance in Iowa.

Seeded 21st entering the NCAA meet, the team finished 11th in a season-best 3 minutes, 6.83 seconds. Sophomore Harun Abda âÄî who also finished 12th in the 800-meter run âÄî ran the second leg of the race and passed two opponents to move the team from sixth to fourth place before handing off the baton for the third leg.

âÄúHeâÄôs our star runner, so he keeps us alive,âÄù said Holton, who ran the anchor leg of the relay for the Gophers.

The sophomore said the sting of the teamâÄôs finish at the Big Ten meet served as extra motivation to perform well at NCAAs.

âÄúIt was a heartbreaker,âÄù Holton said of the Big Ten relay. âÄúI think weâÄôll never forget that meet.âÄù

The relay team, which consisted of three sophomores and a redshirt freshman, was forced to grow up quickly this year, and with that experience under its belt, looks to be even tougher next year.

Aside from Abda and the relay team, sophomore Micah Hegerle and senior Brock Spandl competed individually for Minnesota at the meet. Hegerle placed 12th in the hammer throw and Spandl finished 23rd in the pole vault. 

For both athletes, it was their first time competing outdoors beyond the preliminary round of the NCAA Championships.

âÄúI felt good coming in,âÄù Spandl said. âÄúIt didnâÄôt go as well as I wanted it to.âÄù However, the senior said he will look back fondly on his career at the University of Minnesota.

âÄúWith the sport [of] track and field, thereâÄôs always going to be ups and downs, no matter which way you look at it,âÄù Spandl said. âÄúI donâÄôt have any regrets coming out of it.âÄù

For the first time ever, the Gophers women sent their 4X100-meter relay team to the NCAA meet. The team, consisting of Todea-Kay Willis, Nyoka Giles, Chimerem Okoroji and Alena Brooks, finished 21st in a season-best time of 44.85 seconds, the second-fastest time in team history in the event.

âÄúWe didnâÄôt have any high expectations for ourselves, and we came in knowing that we can do it, it would just take a team effort,âÄù said Willis.

Willis also finished 16th in the long jump with a jump of 20 feet, 3 ¾ inches.

Competing in her third and final NCAA outdoor meet, senior Nikki Swenson finished 16th in the 1,500-meter run in a time of 4 minutes, 23.32 seconds.

âÄúSheâÄôs a great leader and well-liked by all her teammates,âÄù Gophers coach Matt Bingle said of Swenson, who will return as a student coach next year. âÄúSheâÄôs a joy to be around, so weâÄôre glad to have her back.âÄù

SwensonâÄôs fellow seniors Nikki Tzanakis and Samantha Sonnenberg competed at NCAAs as well. For Tzanakis, who finished 14th in the discus with a throw of 166 feet, 8 inches, it was her second-straight NCAA outdoor meet.

For the pole-vaulter Sonnenberg, who failed to clear the opening height of 12 feet, 9 ½ inches, it was her first.

âÄúThe three seniors that we had at the meet, theyâÄôve been great for this program,âÄù Bingle said. âÄúTheyâÄôre going to be dearly missed.âÄù