Youth shows for U women’s track

Allison Younge

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A single step by a Gophers sprinter became the determining factor in a seventh-place finish for Minnesota’s women’s track and field team at the Big Ten championships in Champaign, Ill., this weekend.
Minnesota’s 4×400-meter relay team was automatically disqualified in the final event of the meet because of a lane default. The Gophers needed only one more team point to achieve their goal and finish fifth in the Big Ten.
“We would’ve liked to have finished in the upper division, but sometimes things like this happen,” Gophers coach Gary Wilson said. “I think we showed our youth today.”
The Gophers 4×400 relay combination of Natalie Smith, Alisa Gartner, Shellie Braggs and Yvette White completed the race before the disqualification was announced. Wisconsin won the team title for the second straight year with 121 points. Minnesota finished seventh with 63.
Even though the Gophers youth proved evident at the end of the Big Ten meet, the weekend was highlighted by several veteran performances.
In her final shot put performance of the Big Ten season, veteran thrower Dani Parkos launched a toss of 51 feet, 10 1/2 inches to clinch the shot put title. The throw ranks her ninth in the nation and marked the second-best in Gophers history. It exceeded her own personal best toss by more than two feet.
With little left to prove, Parkos (also the 1995 Big Ten Discus Champion) went on to earn third place honors in the discus with a throw of 156-7.
With Parkos setting the pace, many underclassmen unexpectedly followed. Freshman Nicole Chimko placed second in the javelin with a throw 159-10, improving her personal best by almost 3 feet. She also finished fifth in the discus with a throw of 146-9. Throws teammate sophomore Tina McDonald finished fourth in the discus and shot put respectively.
Sophomore Yvette White added strength in the hurdle events. White finished third in the 400 hurdles, clocking a time of 1:00.72 and placed fifth in the 100 hurdles with a 14.02. She also ran the second leg of the 4×100 relay team. Kim Heath, White, Braggs and Apasha Blocker combined to clock a 47.09 and place third in the relay.
Blocker held the toughest schedule of the weekend competing in the seven events that make up the heptathlon, the javelin and the 4×100 relay. She finished fourth in the heptathlon with 5,107 points and ninth in the javelin before running in the relay finals.
Freshman jumpers Christine Gulbrandsen and Natalie Smith fared well at their first Big Ten outdoor meet. Gulbrandsen clinched the third-best position in Gophers history in the triple jump. She recorded a jump of 40-7 to finish fifth in the event.
Smith recorded her personal best in the long and triple jump. She finished 11th in the long jump at 18-8 and ninth in the triple jump at 39-4.
Top distance finishers for the Gophers were senior Karen Kleindl and junior Kari Thompson. Kleindl, seeded 25th in the conference, placed ninth in the 3,000, clocking a 10:22.63. Thompson also finished ninth in the 10,000, clocking a 37:37. Freshman Minna Haranoja earned a spot in the final of the 1,500 and finished 10th overall with a 4:39.58. Sophomore Anna Gullingsrud finished 20th in the 5,000 and didn’t finish the 10,000 because of heat exhaustion.
Even though the outcome of the Big Ten championship was disappointing for Minnesota, Wilson credited his young Gophers team.
“This is a great group of young kids and they’ll be back,” Wilson said. “It would’ve been great to finish in the upper division, but I wouldn’t trade the team, I wouldn’t trade our attitude.”