Gophers men earn 5th Big Ten title in a row

Also, the women finished in third place and had an individual conference champion.

Derek Wetmore

The Gophers menâÄôs track and field team earned its fifth-straight Big Ten championship Sunday with its third-consecutive indoor title. Since head coach Steve Plasencia took over the program in 2008, he is a perfect 5-for-5 in conference championships. âÄúWhen we walk into the gym to compete I think that weâÄôve gained a measure of respect of our competitors in the conference,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúOur guys have a reputation of being gamers and hopefully people outside the program can see that.âÄù PlasenciaâÄôs team scored 117.33 points to edge second-place Indiana (114.5) in Champaign, Ill. The Gophers scored in 15 of the 18 events on the weekend en route to the title. âÄúI think thatâÄôs been a hallmark of our Minnesota teams,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúObviously the contributions from all areas of the team are what allow us to win titles.âÄù Entering the final event Sunday, the Gophers led by just 9.67 points and the Hoosiers were within striking distance. Plasencia talked to his 4×400-meter relay team and told them they had to run safely and finish to avoid a possible upset at the hands of late-charging Indiana. Running without regular Kevin Bradley, redshirt freshman Jacob Capek filled in and helped the team earn fifth place to lock up the team title. Minnesota was in second place after the first day of competition, trailing Ohio State by four points after five events. The distance medley relay team won the Big Ten title for the men Saturday. Nick Hutton , Harun Abda , Travis Burkstrand and Ben Blankenship combined for a time of 9 minutes, 50.58 seconds. The Gophers hadnâÄôt won a DMR title since 2003. Ben Peterson took second in the pole vault. His vault of 17 feet, 3 3/4 inches on his second attempt tied the winner, but the champion cleared it on his first try. Joey Schwecke parlayed a strong first day to second place in the heptathlon. Teammates Brock Spandl (third) and Jack Szmanda (sixth) also contributed scoring efforts in the event. Blankenship added a second Big Ten title on the weekend in the mile, clocking a time of 4:1.14. The 800-meter finals proved huge for Minnesota, with Burkstrand, Hutton, and Max Hanson taking third, fourth and fifth, respectively. The trio earned 15 points to pad the Gophers lead. Abda added a Big Ten crown in the 600-meter, with John Holton contributing a fourth-place finish. Micah Hegerle won the weight throw, with freshman Quentin Mege registering a fifth-place throw as well. Women finish 3rd Sam Sonnenberg won a Big Ten title this weekend, but the Gophers womenâÄôs track and field team fell short of its quest for a Big Ten team championship, finishing in third place with 73 points. Ohio State cruised to the title with 122.5 points, and Penn State took second just 13 points ahead of Minnesota. Sonnenberg earned her crown in the pole vault Saturday. Her vault of 13-7 1/4 extends MinnesotaâÄôs dominance in the event, which as a program has won the event each of the last four years. âÄúItâÄôs great for Sam to get her first Big Ten title,âÄù head coach Matt Bingle said. âÄúItâÄôs certainly well-deserved and couldnâÄôt happen to a better person.âÄù Becca Pilkerton contributed to the huge vault event for the Gophers, earning third place to add to the teamâÄôs point total. Coming into the weekend, Bingle said pole vault would need to be a big area of strength for his team to compete. Bingle also said the Gophers need to score well in the long jump âÄî where T-K Willis took second âÄî and distance running. The distance medley relay team added a second-place finish, and Minnesota had two scorers in the 3,000-meter, Steph Price (third) and Missa Varpness (eighth). Nikki Swenson and Elizabeth Yetzer finished third and fifth, respectively, in the mile. âÄúOur kids fought really hard and kept plugging away all weekend,âÄù Bingle said. âÄúWe obviously wanted to have a shot to win, but weâÄôre very satisfied with where we finished.âÄù When the team returns from West Lafayette, Ind. several members will focus their attention on the NCAA tournament before the team turns the page to the outdoor season.