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All seven Gophers earn All-America honors at indoor national championships

The weekend was highlighted by runner-up finishes from Ben Blankenship and Ben Peterson; the lone women’s competitor, Sam Sonnenberg, took seventh.
All seven Gophers earn All-America honors at indoor national championships
Image by Joe Michaud-Scorza, Daily File Photo

The Gophers track & field teams were a perfect 7-for-7 in earning All-America status at the NCAA indoor championships over the weekend.

All six of the menâÄôs teamâÄôs participants scored, helping Minnesota to a sixth-place finish, which tied for the highest mark in program history. Sam Sonnenberg also earned All-America honors as the lone Gophers womenâÄôs athlete. 

Florida repeated as team champions with 52 points to MinnesotaâÄôs 27.

The biggest contributors on the menâÄôs side were Ben Blankenship and Harun Abda. The duo was part of the third-place, schoo-record-setting distance medley relay Friday that also included Travis Burkstrand and Nick Hutton.

BlankenshipâÄôs leg in particular was phenomenal for the relay. He clocked a 1,600-meter split time of 3 minutes, 54.61 seconds. The leg is six or seven meters short of a mile, according to head coach Steve Plasencia, but BlankenshipâÄôs time is still remarkable.

âÄúHe came to play this weekend. If you score points in the national meet, youâÄôve done a good job,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúTo help out with that many [14] is really impressive.âÄù

Blankenship was also the national runner-up in the 3,000-meters.

Abda, in addition to his relay contributions, also ran to a fifth-place finish in the 800-meter.

âÄúTo get into sixth place [as a team] you either have to have a ton of people or people that can do it in more than one event. To do it as successfully as those two guys did it is really gratifying and a credit to both their hard work,âÄù Plasencia said.

Ben Peterson was the national runner-up in the pole vault. After missing his first bar at the opening height, he was clean all the way to the final bar, Plasencia said.

Peterson cleared the 18-foot bar that heâÄôs aspired to all season. The mark actually tied the champion, but Peterson cleared it on his second attempt, while the eventual winner cleared it on his first.

âÄúTo step up on the biggest stage of the season and perform above what youâÄôve done in the past is really a credit to his poise,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúThat was pretty remarkable.âÄù

Micah Hegerle rounded out the All-America slate for the Gophers, placing eighth in the weight throw.

On the womenâÄôs side, Sonnenberg didnâÄôt quite get the 14-foot mark she was striving for, but her vault of 13 feet, 11 inches was good enough for seventh place and an All-America selection.

âÄúI was a little surprised just because I actually struggled a lot today during the competition,âÄù Sonnenberg said.

She was down to her final attempt at the opening height but cleared it in a last-chance effort.

âÄúTo only have one more attempt at opening height was nerve-racking but I got to the runway and just felt confident that I could do it,âÄù she said.

âÄúI was really happy with how it ended up and IâÄôm super honored to be an All-American again.âÄù

Arkansas junior Tina Sutej won the national title, setting a new womenâÄôs record in the process with a height of 14 feet, 7 1/4 inches. She led what Sonnenberg and vaults coach Caroline White called the best field ever in womenâÄôs pole vaulting.

Since taking over the menâÄôs track team in the summer of 2008, PlasenciaâÄôs impact on the squad has been astounding. The program is currently working on a string of five straight Big Ten championships and will likely be even stronger in the outdoor portion of the season.

Thrower Aaron Studt will return for his outdoor senior season after sitting out the indoor season because heâÄôd expired all four years of eligibility for that season.

Hassan Mead should also be back and capable of contributing at an elite level, Plasencia said.

After finishing eighth last year, the menâÄôs team improved on that mark and tied the best finish in program history. The other sixth place indoor finish came under Roy Griak in 1993.

âÄúWe want to be one of the top-10 teams in the nation; thatâÄôs really a goal of our program, to embed ourselves in that [list],âÄù Plasencia said.  

âÄúHopefully with finishes like this a lot of people take note of that. It is big for the program and you never know whatâÄôs going to happen next but certainly I like the things that have gone on the past couple of years.âÄù

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