Minnesota’s women’s track and field team looks to continue a successful streak as 20 of its athletes compete in the NCAA West Preliminary in Lawrence, Kan., this week.
The meet comes just after the team won a share of the Big Ten title — its fifth in program history and first since 2006.
“We might have a couple of kids who are a little banged up from the Big Ten game and stuff, but we feel good about where we’re at,” said director Matt Bingle. “Hopefully they feel confident, which they should.”
The Gophers are sending their highest number of athletes to the preliminary meet since 2010 when 24 Minnesota representatives made the cut.
Of the 20 athletes, the Gophers will have 13 returners at the preliminary and seven first-time competitors represented at the meet in 14 different events.
Minnesota’s last meet, the Big Ten Championships, ended with a title for the team.
The Gophers’ conference standing came down to the 4×400 meter relay performance of Erin Hawkins, Kat Keller, Emerald Egwim and Titania Markland. The team qualified for the preliminary meet last season as well and then went on to the NCAA Championships.
They’ll look to take a similar path this year.
Markland will also compete in the 400-meter run in her second-ever preliminary appearance.
“It’s always good to feel brave,” Markland said. “I check my breathing. I pray, and I talk to Coach Bingle, and he keeps me in check if I’m nervous.”
Markland missed moving on to the NCAA Championship by one place in the 400-meter race last year but will look to start fresh at the preliminary and hopefully get a different result.
“I cannot compare what I did last year to this year because every race is different,” she said. “These are different teams. Everyone got stronger or faster.”
Minnesota will be led by redshirt senior Liz Berkholtz, who is making her fourth trip to the event.
Berkholtz ran the 10,000 meter in 2013 and 2014 and ran the 5,000 meter in 2015.
Despite running in a different event than she did previously, Berkholtz said she is confident that the season has prepared her for the preliminary meet.
“I feel like I was really well prepared throughout the coaching year, and it got a little more intense through the Big Ten Championship,” she said.
Berkholtz is the only member of the team who has been to the preliminary meet four years in a row and uses it as motivation heading into what could be one of her last meets.
“It’s calming for me because I’ve been here before,” Berkholtz said. “But I think it’s also a motivator for me because I know this is my last year.”