Who will set the pace at Big Tens?

Staff Reporter

Two months ago the Gophers men’s and women’s track and field teams took their talents outdoors. Improvement was seen throughout the season as Minnesota used each meet as a stepping stone to the showcase meet — the Big Ten championships.
Starting today, 11 teams will converge on the University of Illinois Outdoor Track and Field Stadium (Champaign, Ill.) for the 1997 Big Ten championships.
This year’s Gophers teams will rely on the combined strength of experienced veterans and standout newcomers. No matter what age, these athletes share the common goal of capturing a Big Ten title.
Here are some of the Gophers’ top performers in their respective events:
Led by long-time throws coach Lynne Anderson, the Gophers throwing team will be depended on to score a majority of Minnesota’s points at Big Tens.
Jason Schlueter: Schlueter, a senior, returns to the Big Tens to defend his discus title. Last year he won the discus competition with a throw of 185 feet. This year, Schlueter is one of the conference favorites having provisionally qualified for NCAAs five times this season. His longest throw of the season came at the Texas Relays (Austin, Texas) on April 5 with a toss of 191 feet.
Chad Yenchesky: Yenchesky, a junior, finished fourth at Big Tens last season with a throw of 57 feet, 11 inches. He appears to be the Gophers best-shot at a title in shot put. This season he has provisionally qualified for NCAAs four times. His longest throw of the season came at the Raleigh Relays (Raleigh, N.C.) on March 29 with a mark of 58-4 3/4. He will join Schlueter at Big Tens to compete in the discus.
Dani Parkos: Parkos, a senior, will be a mainstay for the Gophers women’s throwers at Big Tens. She enters the meet ranked second in the Big Ten in the discus. She won the title two years ago before redshirting last year to train for the Olympic trials. Parkos recorded her best throw this year of 168-11 at the Texas Relays on April 5.
Parkos will also compete for honors in the shot put, where she is ranked third in the Big Ten. At the Minnesota Classic on May 3, Parkos marked her best toss this season with a throw of 49-8 1/2. She has provisionally qualified for NCAAs four times in the shot put and three times in the discus.
Nicole Chimko: Chimko, a freshman, provides strength for the Gophers in the javelin. She enters her first Big Ten meet ranked second. Chimko threw her personal best of 156-11 at the Raleigh Relays on March 29. This outstanding throw established Minnesota’s freshman record in the javelin. She has provisionally qualified in the event two times this season.
Chimko will also compete in the discus where she is ranked fourth in the conference. She provisionally qualified once in the discus with a throw of 163-7 at the Minnesota Open on May 10.
Adding strength to the men’s throws team will be sophomore Jeff Marsh and freshmen Justin Asher and Adam Reed. Tina McDonald will give power to the women’s throws team. McDonald provisionally qualified for NCAAs in the shot put earlier this season.
Three freshmen Gophers will head into Big Tens in hope of placing among the conference elite. Jahan Culbreath joined the Gopher’s women’s team this season as the jumps, hurdle, sprints and multiple event athletes coach. He has played an influential role in developing these young jumpers.
Natalie Smith: Smith is ranked eighth in the triple jump and 12th in the long jump. She recorded her longest triple jump at the Minnesota Open on May 10 with a leap of 39-2 1/4. This jump made the Gopher’s all-time performance list, taking the No. 5 position.
Smith’s best long jump performance of the year occurred on April 19 at the Mt. SAC Relays (Walnut, Calif.) with a jump of 18-7 1/4. This mark was good for the fourth best performance in Gophers history.
Christine Gulbrandsen: Gulbrandsen is currently ranked fifth in the Big Ten in the triple jump after setting the Gopher’s freshman record this season with a mark of 40 feet, 2 inches. This jump landed her third on Minnesota’s all-time best triple jump list.
Staffan Strand: Strand will compete in the high jump, triple jump and the long jump for the Gophers at Big Tens. His key event is the high jump. He has automatically qualified for NCAAs in it twice this season clearing the bar at 7-4 1/2. Strand’s automatically qualifying mark is also a Minnesota freshman record.
Tyler McCormick: McCormick, a sophomore, is out to regain form in the high jump. He placed fourth in the event at Big Tens last season with a clear of 6-8 3/4.
Pole Vault
The Gophers men’s team is stocked with talent in the pole vault. In addition to the throws team, the pole vaulters will be counted on to earn major team points.
Tye Harvey: Harvey, a senior, recorded his best vault at the Mt. SAC Relays. He automatically qualified for the NCAAs, clearing the bar at 18-1 1/4.
Vesa Rantanen: Rantanen, a sophomore, enters the Big Tens as the defending pole vault champion. He has automatically qualified for NCAAs twice this season. At the Texas Relays, Rantanen vaulted 18-5 1/4, earning the automatic standard. This mark is Minnesota’s current outdoor pole vault record. He was also named Big Ten Track and Field Athlete of the Month for April.
Middle Distance
The middle distance races have not proven to be a strength for either Minnesota team this season, but two young 800 runners offer hope.
Kristie Stiles: Stiles, a freshman, proved herself to be a promising competitor at the Minnesota Maroon and Gold Open by placing first in the 800. She clocked her personal best time in the race — a 2:18.02. This weekend she will look to prove herself among top competitors.
Ron Hoffner: Hoffner, a sophomore, ran a personal best time of 1:50.82 in the 800 to win the event at the Minnesota Invitational on May 10. He will be the Gophers lone competitor in the 800 at Big Tens.
Distance Running
While Wisconsin leads the conference in distance running, the Gophers will attempt to match strides with the conference leaders.
Anna Gullingsrud: Gullingsrud, a sophomore, enters the Big Tens as Minnesota’s strongest distance competitor. This past fall, she automatically qualified for NCAAs in cross country. Gullingsrud is currently ranked fifth in the 10,000 and 13th in the 5,000. At the Tom Botts Invitational on April 12, she recorded her fastest time of 17:37.46.
Rick Obleman: Obleman, a senior, placed third at last year’s Big Tens in the steeplechase. He is ranked among the top 20 nationally in the steeplechase. Obleman provisionally qualified for NCAAs at the Sea Ray Relays on April 12, clocking a 8:52.49 on the race. He will compete in the steeplechase and the 5,000 at Big Tens.
This year’s hurdlers have proven to be among Minnesota’s all-time best. They will look to capture top-place finishes at Big Tens.
Yvette White: White, a sophomore, is currently ranked third in the 400 hurdles and fifth in the 100 hurdles in the Big Ten. Last season, she set the school record in the 100 hurdles with a time of 14.06 seconds. She also holds the second-fastest time in the 400 hurdles, which was good for a third place finish at Big Tens last season.
Niles Deneen: Deneen, a junior, finished seventh at Big Tens last year and strives to place among the top five. Last weekend he set a new personal best with a time of 14.19 seconds, good for the third best time in Minnesota history. Deneen will also act as alternate on the Gophers’ 4×100 relay team.
4×100 Relays
Men’s: Minnesota will attempt to defend its 4×100 relay Big Ten Championship of last year. This year they will put a new lineup on the track, including Fred Rodgers, Adam Freed, Tim Van Voorhis, and Shelton Benjamin. Deneen will serve as an alternate.
This team is comprised of three newcomers. Rodgers joined the team two weeks ago after playing cornerback for the Gophers football team. Benjamin also doubles as a trackster after competing as the starting heavyweight on the Gophers wrestling team this season. Freed enters the Big Tens as a true freshman.
Women’s: The women’s 4×100 relay team will attempt to better its sixth place finish at Big Tens last year. Currently, the team is led by sophomore Kim Heath who ran the lead leg of the Gophers’ 1995 third place relay. She will hand off to Yvette White, who also excels in the hurdles for Minnesota. The third and fourth legs are run by junior Shellie Braggs and sophomore Apasha Blocker.
Kim Heath: Heath, a sophomore, holds the fastest time in Gophers history in the 100 at 11.68. That time was good for fifth place in the event at the 1995 Big Ten meet. Heath will run the 100, 200 and the lead leg of the 4×100 relay.
Rodgers, a freshman, will compete in his first Big Ten meet with the Gophers. Rodgers placed second at the Minnesota Last Chance Meet (his first meet with the Gophers) with a time of 10.75. He will run the first leg on the Gophers 4×100 relay team at Big Tens.
Tim Van Voorhis: Van Voorhis, a senior, has been sidelined for much of the outdoor season due to injury. Last year he was named first team all-Big Ten. Van Voorhis was a member of the Big Ten champion 4×100 relay team. He also ran the 100 and 200 and placed eighth in both events respectively.
The heptathlon consists of seven grueling events: the 100 hurdles, shot put, high jump, 200, long jump, javelin and 800.
Apasha Blocker: Blocker, a sophomore, enters Big Tens ranked third in the heptathlon. Last year she finished second at Big Tens, recording a school-record 5,153 points. This season she has provisionally qualified for NCAAs, recording 5,146 points at the Penn Relays April 26. Blocker also runs the anchor leg of the Gopher’s 4×100 relay team.
The decathlon consists of ten exhausting events: the 100, 400, long jump, shot put, high jump, 110 hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and the 1,500.
Benjamin Jensen: Jensen, a sophomore, will not compete in his featured event at Big Tens. He automatically qualified for NCAAs and in order to save his energy, he will only compete in selected events. He will compete in the long jump, pole vault and 110 hurdles at Big Tens.
This season, Jensen broke his own decathlon record by compiling 7,669 points at the Mt. SAC Relays. This point total ranks second in Big Ten history and provisionally qualified him for NCAAs. He also holds the Gophers’ all-time decathlon record.
Senior Seth Mischke and junior John Anderson will compete for the Gophers in the decathlon at Big Tens.