Blankenship sets 3K school record, Mead returns

The senior set a school record in the mile at another meet in Seattle last year

Derek Wetmore

Ben Blankenship has to be falling in love with the tracks in Seattle. Blankenship set a new school record for the menâÄôs indoor 3,000-meter race Saturday at the Husky Classic.

His mark of 7:52.52 also earned him an NCAA automatic qualifier time and bettered the school record by more than two seconds âÄî no small feat in a race that length.

âÄúWe were real happy for Ben, that was lots of fun seeing him race in a real good field with a lot of post-collegiate [runners] in it,âÄù head coach Steve Plasencia said. âÄúTo come up with an NCAA auto [qualifier] âÄî that was our goal coming here for him and he exceeded that.âÄù

The senior also owns the school record for the mile, which he set last March at another Seattle meet, the Washington Qualifier.

âÄúThey have a good track and good, fast races and thatâÄôs what it takes,âÄù Plasencia said.

The other big news of the weekend was Hassan MeadâÄôs  official return to competition. Racing for the first time in 15 months, Mead ran the 3K in a respectable time, but Plasencia said heâÄôs not all the way back just yet.

âÄúWe knew when we took the last step and got into actual competitions that he would have to knock a little rust off,âÄù Plasencia said.

He added that Mead said his cardiovascular endurance and breathing felt good during the race, but that there were certain times that Mead said his legs âÄúcouldnâÄôt go.âÄù

âÄúIâÄôm happy for him, he was happy to get out and compete,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúHe was near the back of the field he was in, but 8:07 is not a bad time. Most of the guys I work with would be very happy to have that as their [personal record].âÄù

For Mead, however, the standard has been set higher, thanks in large part to his six All-America honors.

âÄúHeâÄôs definitely continuing down the comeback trail and if we can keep âÄî knock on wood âÄî moving forward in a healthy fashion, weâÄôll be seeing the old Hassan Mead before long,âÄù Plasencia said.

The athletes who didnâÄôt accompany Plasencia to the Husky Classic went to the Iowa State Classic with assistant coach Paul Thornton.

Highlights from that meet included Ben Peterson, who won the pole vault; John Holton, who took second in the 600-meter; and Micah Hegerle, who won the weight throw.

The womenâÄôs team also travelled to Ames for the Iowa State Classic.

On the first day of competition, Minnesota took two titles. Todea-Kay âÄúTKâÄù Willis won the long jump and Sam Sonnenberg took the pole vault crown. Becca Pilkerton took fifth in the vault with a new career-best jump that actually tied the second-place finisher.

Chim Okoroji was âÄúback to her old self,âÄù said head coach Matt Bingle, and she took the 60-meter dash title, her third of the season.

Missa Varpness took second in the 3K. Where the Gophers really stood out, though, was in the mile.

Nikki Swenson took first among collegians, with Elizabeth Yetzer and Steph Price coming in second and fifth, respectively. Recent Minnesota graduates Gabe Anderson and Heather Kampf (formerly Heather Dorniden) took first and second competing unattached.

âÄúWe had a good weekend and weâÄôre happy with the effort,âÄù Bingle said. âÄúI feel like weâÄôre in a good position for the Big Ten meet. WeâÄôve just got to rest and make ourselves feel good and make a go at it.âÄù

Both teams will host ParentâÄôs Day next weekend at the Fieldhouse in the Snowshoe Open before competing in the Big Ten Indoor Championships Feb. 26-27 in Champaign, Ill.