Drake Relays mark special weekend for Minnesota track and field

Grant Donald

Members of both women’s and men’s Minnesota track teams will make the brief trip south to Iowa this Friday to take part in the annual Drake Relays —  a meet that has become a highlight of the Gophers’ outdoor season.
At last year’s meet, more than 14,000 people flooded Drake Stadium to watch the final day of competition.
“It’s really more than just any other track meet,” women’s head coach Matt Bingle said. “The atmosphere that Drake and the Des Moines area create is one of the best in the nation for track and field.”
However, the event is more than just the meet that will occur Friday and Saturday. Drake Relays festivities began last Sunday with a bulldog beauty contest and have continued throughout the week.
“We try and create events that are fun for all ages, regardless of how much they enjoy track and field,” Drake Relays director Brian Brown said. “The student body also plays a crucial role in creating the environment. They look forward to this week the minute that they step on campus.”
Brown said the excitement builds throughout the week, peaking with the high school and college meets.
With the event’s hype, Minnesota athletes will have plenty of energy to feed off of, which men’s head coach Steve Plasencia said can cause remarkable performances.
“When you go from running in front of a couple hundred of people to running in front of over 10,000, it can sometimes overwhelm kids,” he said. “But for others, it’s what they need to really do something special.”
To go along with the environment, the Drake Relays provide the Gophers with some much-needed experience against top competition. 
Even though the women’s team has multiple meets between this weekend and Big Ten outdoor championships in May, only one will be against mostly Division I competition.
“We always set this weekend as a checkpoint during our season,” Bingle said. “We want to see those distances and times to be nearing the marks that it will take to place in Big Ten [championships].”
While the women’s team only sends distance runners to Des Moines, Iowa, to compete this weekend, the men’s team will send more athletes.
Therefore, Plasencia said the experience has more of a championship feel.
“In a couple weeks, when we go to the Big Ten outdoors, there are going to be times when we struggle,” Plasencia said. “Individuals might struggle this weekend.
We have to learn how to pick those individuals up when they struggle. We have a great opportunity in front of us.”