Minnesota qualifies 13 for NCAA’s

Six men, seven women will advance to NCAA Outdoor championships.

Andrew Baker

Still smarting from relatively disappointing finishes at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships, the Gophers menâÄôs and womenâÄôs track teams received a much-needed morale boost this weekend at the NCAA West Preliminary Rounds in Eugene, Ore.

Of the 40 athletes representing Minnesota, seven women and six men performed well enough in Eugene to individually advance to the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championship, held June 8-11 in Des Moines, Iowa.

The weekend was a mixed bag emotionally for MinnesotaâÄôs coaches, who balanced the elation of seeing some of their athletes advance with the melancholy task of consoling others whose seasons âÄî or careers âÄî had just come to an end.



If anyone felt the pain of coming up 2.5 team points shy of winning a sixth-straight Big Ten title this spring, it was the menâÄôs 4×400-meter relay team of Jacob Capek, Harun Abda, Kevin Bradley and John Holton.

At the Big Ten outdoor meet, the Gophers were neck-and-neck with Iowa heading into the relay, which was the final event of the weekend. MinnesotaâÄôs foursome finished fourth to IowaâÄôs second, securing the title for Iowa and the end of the streak for the Gophers.

MinnesotaâÄôs relay team still managed to qualify for the NCAA preliminary round though, where they rallied to finish third in their heat and qualify for the final round at Des MoinesâÄô Drake Stadium.

Normally, Abda would run the anchor leg of the relay, but Gophers assistant coach Paul Thornton made a late shuffle to the lineup, moving Abda to the second leg and making Holton the anchor, so that Abda could keep the team in the relay early.

âÄúCoach Thornton did a masterful job in terms of switching his legs around,âÄù head coach Steve Plasencia said. âÄúHe put his bets on Holton that heâÄôd be able to hang in there in a tough race, and he didâÄù.âÄù

In addition to the relay, Abda also finished third in his heat in the 800-meter run in a school-record time of 1 minute, 46.81 seconds.

Though Abda was the star of the weekend for Minnesota, Micah Hegerle and Brock Spandl also advanced to their first-ever NCAA Championships in the hammer and pole vault, respectively.

Hassan Mead, who twice has competed at the NCAA Outdoor Championship in the 5,000-meter run, failed to do so this year, finishing  15th in the 5K with a time of 13:52.24.



In five years since taking over as head coach of the Gophers womenâÄôs track and field team, Matt Bingle has made an early habit of success, most notably coaching the team to three consecutive Big Ten indoor titles from 2007 to 2009.

So this year, when the team finished seventh at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships, it was somewhat unfamiliar territory for Bingle.

Gary Wilson, who coached the team for 21 years before passing the reigns to Bingle, said: âÄúI think itâÄôs always hard when youâÄôve had success to all of a sudden have a year like weâÄôve had âĦ but like I told Matt, I said, âÄòIf youâÄôre in this game as long as IâÄôve been, which is 43 years, youâÄôre going to have ups and downsâÄôâĦ It goes with the territory.âÄù

Though their season has not played out the way the Gophers had hoped, one constant has been the strong performance of Nikki Swenson, who will represent the team at Drake Stadium in the 1,500-meter run after finishing fourth in her heat in a career-best 4:18.38 in Eugene.

Nikki Tzanakis will represent the team for the second straight year in the discus, while two-time indoor All-American pole-vaulter Samantha Sonnenberg earned her first-ever outdoor NCAA berth with a vault of 13 feet, 5 1/4 inches.

In addition to Swenson, Tzanakis and Sonnenberg, the GophersâÄô 4×100-meter relay team of Todea-Kay Willis, Nyoka Giles, Chimerem Okoroji and Alena Brooks advanced to the final round. Willis also advanced in the long jump.