Young team focuses on Big Tens

by Allison Younge

Youthful potential surrounds this year’s Gophers women’s track and field team — and Coach Gary Wilson is brewing with excitement for the future.
“Seventy-five percent of the team is made up of freshmen and sophomores,” Wilson said. “We’re a very young team, and with that comes growing pains, but we’re going to be great.”
Minnesota will work to improve on a sixth-place finish earned at the Big Ten indoor championships on Feb. 23. The Gophers finished fifth at last year’s Big Tens, but Wilson hopes for more this season.
“We’re better than last year — as talented as we’ve ever been,” Wilson said. “I think we can finish among the top three in the outdoor season.”
With only six seniors, the Gophers will look to several underclassmen to step forward and take on veteran roles. The Gophers’ four international freshmen displayed great promise during the indoor season.
Natalie Smith (St. Thomas, Barbados) leapt into Minnesota record books in the long and triple jump. She currently holds the Gophers’ third best position in the long jump at 19 feet, 3 inches, and the fourth best triple jump, 39-10 1/2.
Christine Gulbrandsen (Kristiansand, Norway) will also add to the jumps team, and Minna Haronoja (Illo, Finland) and Daphne Panhuysen (Maastricht, the Netherlands) will run middle distance.
Returning to the Gophers lineup after a redshirt year are sprinters Kim Hofner and Kim Heath, and throws specialist Dani Parkos. Hofner and Heath filled two positions on the outstanding 4×100 relay team in 1995. With Heath running the second leg and Hofner the third, the team set the current Gophers record with a time of 46.21 seconds.
“Hofner and Heath will have a significant impact on the 4×100 relay,” Wilson said.
Parkos, a senior, provisionally qualified for the NCAA championships and threw a personal record in the discus two weeks ago. She also took third in the shot put at this year’s indoor Big Tens, recording a 50-foot, 2 3/4-inch throw.
“I would bet a lot of money that she’ll be an All-American this year in the discus,” Wilson said.
Although the number of seniors on this year’s Gophers team is down, Wilson strives to keep the team’s morale on the upswing. This weekend, instead of splitting the team between two different tournaments as was scheduled, Wilson decided to send a full squad to the Missouri Invitational.
“We decided that it’s a team competition, and we wanted to keep everyone together,” Wilson said.
Minnesota will join seven other selected teams in Columbia, Mo., for a dedication tournament in honor of Missouri’s new track facility.
“The coach at Missouri is a close friend of mine. He said, ‘For the first meet on this track, I’m going to invite all of my friends,'” Wilson said. “That’s who got invited to it, and nobody else is going to come. If we win the Missouri Invitational, to be really frank, I could care less, but if we finish below third at Big Tens, then I care a lot.”