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Men’s track loading up for run toward Big Ten outdoor title

Outside at the Bierman Track and Field Complex the air is chilly, the grass is brown and the track is littered with, well, presents from low-flying geese.

But to Minnesota’s men’s track and field team, it might as well be May.

After finishing eighth at the NCAA indoor track and field championships two weeks ago – its best showing in 10 years – the Gophers are already pointing toward the Big Ten outdoor championships, which they host May 16-18.

Want proof? Ask Mitch Potter about it.

“Honestly, that meet has been on my mind since before the NCAA indoor meet,” the seven-time All-American said. “Everybody is talking about having that ring on their finger.”

For the Gophers, however, the Tiffany diamond might be easier to come by than Big Ten championship jewelry.

Minnesota was in prime position to win the Big Ten indoor title last year, leading the meet with 31 points after the first day.

Due to the death of Penn State pole vaulter Kevin Dare, however, the meet was cancelled and no

winners were named.

In last year’s Big Ten outdoor championships, Minnesota lost by 4 1/2 points to host Wisconsin when the Badgers took four of the top five spots in the 5,000-meter run to claim their third straight title.

And in this year’s conference indoor meet, Wisconsin stole a title from the Gophers by two points, again taking four of the top five spots in the 5,000-meter run.

As Minnesota approaches the outdoor season, it’s safe to say the thought of beating the Badgers on its own track is more than just a musing.

“I’d have to say it’s prominent in most of our minds,” said coach Phil Lundin, banging his hand on a high-jump pit for emphasis. “The focus is on the Big Ten meet for most guys.”

The Gophers, who had eight indoor All-Americans this season, will receive a boost when sophomore sprinter Robb Merritt and redshirt freshman long-jumper Andy Newman return from injuries this spring.

Merritt, an outdoor all-Big Ten selection in the 400-meter dash last year, is still in rehab from surgery to correct a muscle tear called pubitis. Lundin said Merritt will likely compete only in relays until April.

Newman sustained anterior

cruciate ligament and hamstring damage on a jump in the Big Ten indoor championships last year.

“Getting both of those guys back will be a huge boost,” Lundin said. “Merritt, when he’s healthy, is as good as any of our sprinters. I’m not sure if Newman will be ready, but it’s a strong possibility.”

Minnesota loses All-American middle distance runner Toby Henkels, who had only a season of indoor eligibility left.

However, the Gophers benefit from the move outside, featuring All-American Mikael Jakobsson in the 400-meter hurdles and school-record holder Lynden Reder in the hammer throw – thriving on two events that are not contested during the indoor season.

Potter, noting the talent in place with Wisconsin’s uncanny ability to make Minnesota see red, is already sure this will be the year the Gophers pin down a conference championship.

“I have no doubt we’ll win the Big Ten if we stay healthy,” he said. “With all the fire we have built up, I’m not worried about somebody coming to our house and showing us up.”

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