Drake yields mixed results for men

by Jim Schortemeyer

DES MOINES, Iowa — Some of the Minnesota men’s track team’s best athletes were at the prestigious Drake Relays this weekend, but most of their performances fell short of the pace they set while winning this year’s Big Ten Indoor Championships.
The Gophers didn’t get the productivity they would have liked, or even expected. The field events — normally the stronghold for Minnesota athletes — were out of sync all weekend. Head coach Phil Lundin was noticeably displeased with most of the results over the weekend.
“Overall, we haven’t had any great performances,” Minnesota coach Phil Lundin said. “I’m very pleased with the middle distance runners, but I’m concerned with the field events.”
The team was relaxed and rested, and it took the meet seriously. Coaches said it was Minnesota’s biggest meet in terms of media attention between the Big Ten indoor and outdoor championships. Some of the athletes admitted to feeling pressure to repeat their championship title from the winter.
“We think about it, but it’s not like we’re Atlas standing underneath the world,” sprinter-hurdler Niles Deneen said.
The Gophers placed no higher than third in any event, a position achieved by two athletes.
One of those two, Jason Owen, continued his impressive outdoor season in two 800-meter races. Owen placed third in the open 800 Saturday, and helped the 4 x 800 relay team to its fourth-place finish.
Results didn’t exactly improve from there, possibly because Minnesota was missing some weapons from its arsenal. For instance, the Gophers left high jumper Staffan Strand in Minnesota over the weekend.
Even without Strand, Minnesota’s remaining three jumpers have cleared seven feet this year. But this weekend they weren’t their usual selves. Although they all made the finals, their efforts ended after all cleared the opening height of 6-8. They all finished tied for 15th.
One of those high-jumpers, Tyler McCormick, also competed in the long jump, where he finished a fairly impressive eighth.
“I was just happy to make finals,” McCormick said.
Another Minnesota jumper, Marcus Westberry, had an encouraging return to competition. Westberry, who missed the last 10 weeks of competition because of tendinitis, placed sixth in the triple jump, and seemed pleased just to be back in competition.
A less impressive return for Minnesota came in the pole vault. Vesa Rantanen, who won the event at Drake last year, finished seventh. Tye Harvey equalled his result from last year, placing third.
Harvey’s effort of more than 17-7 tied his season best, and was an NCAA provisional qualification. Although Rantanen’s effort wasn’t up to his standards, it was good enough for a provisional mark.
The young 4 x 800-meter relay team — which features two sophomores and two freshmen — ran as high as second, before finishing in fourth behind tough competition.
Despite that seemingly strong result, relay member Ron Hoffner was somewhat flustered by the weekend’s results.
“You always want to be up there,” Hoffner said. “It’s not like any other sport. If you don’t do well, it’s your fault.”
But it was the field events that suffered the most this weekend. Thrower Chad Yenchesky had what he referred to as one of the worst weekends of competition in his college career. Yenchesky, who is a consistent finalist for Minnesota, didn’t manage to make finals in any of his events.
It’s difficult to say what the meet really means for Minnesota’s Big Ten chances. There were only sporadic appearances from athletes on other Big Ten teams. One thing seemed clear from the Gophers’ performances this weekend: They have to perform better to win their second conference title.
Lundin immediately put the kibosh on any thoughts that the so-so results over the weekend bode poorly for Minnesota’s future.
“We do have time,” Lundin said. “We’ll decide what we have to do, make a plan and hopefully get our act together.”