Gophers hope to build at Big Ten meet

Jim Schortemeyer

Call it a dress rehearsal, call it an individual meet, just don’t say Minnesota hopes to win the Big Ten Outdoor Track and Field Championship. There are only two teams from the Big Ten ranked in the top 25, and neither is the Gophers.
Head coach Gary Wilson has made one thing clear about the upcoming championships: He doesn’t expect the team to be in the top five.
“If everything goes right, we could maybe sneak into an upper-division finish,” Wilson said.
Michigan and Wisconsin are expected to compete for first place, while the rest of the Big Ten competes for individual glory.
Minnesota is understaffed for the championships, especially compared to other teams. Each team is allowed to bring 30 athletes, but the Gophers are bringing 19 because they lack able bodies to fill the open slots. The team has had members quit, and others were injured over what Wilson has deemed “a long season.”
What the Gophers do expect from the athletes they are sending is points. Although Wilson admits the meet is about gaining experience and having individual performances, his athletes should score well.
“Of the group that we’re taking, 14 or 15 should score points,” Wilson said.
The coach’s attitude toward the meet has filtered through the rest of the team. Minnesota is exceedingly young, with only two seniors expected to compete at the championships, and the athletes know what their situation is.
“This year we’re not going to win,” freshman runner Elaine Eggleston said. “We’re going to get ready for next year.”
One area Minnesota coaches can expect to see strong results in is the throws. Throwing coach Lynne Anderson expects freshman Aubrey Schmitt to contend for a title in both the shot put and discus.
Teammate Nicole Chimko picks up the slack in the javelin, which she threw 176 feet last weekend — the second-best heave in school history. Wilson is excited about his group of throwers, none of whom is beyond her sophomore year of eligibility.
“I think in another year, and especially in another two years, you’re going to see a dominant group of throwers,” Wilson said.
Wind hampered last week’s throwing efforts at the Minnesota Last Chance Meet, but Anderson was actually pleased with the gusts, which were against the throwers.
“It makes the field wide open, because the not-so-good athletes can stay up there,” Anderson said.
Good results might come from a select few runners as well. Yvette White figures to be in the running for both the 100- and 400-meter hurdles titles, events in which she finished fifth and third last year, respectively. White looked to be in prime shape two weeks ago, when she recorded the second-best time of her career in the 100.
Another athlete posting top times of late for the Gophers is Minna Haronoja, who recently ran the fourth-fastest 1,500-meter time in Minnesota history. Haronoja, a sophomore, figures to be in the top five of the 1,500, her best event.
Struggling as a team at the championships is nothing new to the Gophers. They have placed no higher than third in the history of the meet. But Wilson said next year’s team could be the best in Minnesota history, making this weekend’s experience valuable.
“This is the most excited I’ve been about a team,”Wilson said.
Minnesota will start the weekend with the heptathlon and hammer throw on Friday, and conclude on Sunday.