Track teams split squads, look for top marks

Brian Hall

At the Drake Relays last weekend, Minnesota women’s track and field coach Gary Wilson talked about his team’s mental makeup.

He wondered if the recent travel schedule and class load was affecting his squad’s performance at Drake.

Over the past four weeks, the Gophers have traveled to North Carolina, Iowa, California and back to Iowa.

Now, after a full week of recovery and practice at home, the team hosts the Minnesota Open on Saturday at the Bierman Track and Field Complex.

The Gophers will field a split squad at Bierman, with some athletes making the trip to Iowa City to take part in the Iowa Twilight Invitational.

“We will be about half and half,” Wilson said. “We made the decision based on what our athletes needed right now. It has really been a benefit to be around here for the whole week.”

Each meet will offer Minnesota something unique.

In the Minnesota Open, the Gophers receive their first shot at competing at home this outdoor season. At Iowa the Gophers will face tougher competition to help them prepare for the challenge of the Big Ten championships while also being scored as a team for the first time.

“Whether we like it or not,” Wilson said, “the success of our whole season is determined by one or two meets, the conference and national meets.

“It is certainly nice to win a meet, but we aren’t going to sacrifice training or anyone’s health to win a smaller meet.”

Overall, Wilson believes his team is beginning to show signs of being a possible conference contender.

“We are really coming around,” Wilson said. “We get a little stronger each meet. Within a week, we will be able to tell how the conference will go.

“We might have a decent shot at winning.”

Men on the road again

Minnesota’s men’s track and field team will also be splitting its squad this weekend, traveling to Iowa and California. In addition, many of the redshirt and freshman athletes will participate at the Hamline Invitational in St. Paul.

The Gophers will send their distance and middle distance runners to Palo Alto, Calif., to compete in the Cardinal Invitational. The remainder of the team will participate in the Iowa Twilight Invitational.

“Generally at Stanford, the conditions are ideal,” coach Phil Lundin said. “We have a few guys who will be trying to qualify for nationals. The weather is normally good and there is good competition.

“That’s what the meet is designed for – a national qualifying meet.”

Junior Andrew McKessock, coming off his Drake Relays title, will be competing in the 1,500-meter run while sophomore Will McComb will participate in the 5,000-meter run and senior Toby Henkels looks for an NCAA qualifying time in the 800-meter run.

“Each of those guys have come very close to qualifying for nationals,” Lundin said. “That meet will give them the best opportunity and improve their chances of qualifying.”

Meanwhile, Minnesota takes part in the Iowa Invitational continuing its preparation for the Big Ten Outdoor Championships in two weeks.

While the Iowa Invitational is a team-scored event, Lundin chooses to look beyond team performance. Disappointed with his team’s Drake Relays performance, he hopes to see more effort.

“I want to see more competitiveness out of some of these guys,” Lundin said. “We need to be getting ready because Big Tens are just a couple of weeks away. Generally they are coming into form. If we could get some warm weather you will start to see performances begin to rise.”

Brian Hall covers track and field and welcomes comments at [email protected]