Freshman helps runner-up relay at NCAAs

Kent Erdahl

At last summer’s NCAA Championships, Adam Steele and Mitch Potter raced each other into the national spotlight with first- and third-place finishes in the 400 meters.

During this year’s championships in Austin, Texas last week, Minnesota’s captains were unable to replicate their individual successes.

But with the help of a couple of underclassmen and the addition of a baton, the two made strides toward legitimizing their own accomplishments and those of the team.

Despite a disappointing 15th- place team finish, the seniors ended their careers with an electric runner-up performance alongside Robb Merritt and Aaron Buzard in the 4×400-meter relay.

The Gophers could have been considered a long shot before the race. Buzard, was selected as a last-minute replacement for senior Mikael Jakobsson, who aggravated a groin injury.

But after the race starter fired his gun, Minnesota sprinted alongside leaders Arizona State and Louisiana State, thanks to the fast legs of Steele and Merritt.

Arizona State held a slight lead before Merritt handed off to Buzard.

Shortly after, an Arizona State runner dropped the baton, and the rest of the field began chasing the freshman from Rochester, Minn.

Buzard clung to his lead until his last stretch, when a runner from Baylor narrowly overtook him before the final exchange.

“The cool thing was that I could feel us pull away from the other teams,” Buzard said. “When I knew it was between us and I gave it to (Potter), I knew it would be fast. Nothing has ever been that intense or exciting.”

Potter caught Baylor’s runner in the final leg, but as the crowd cheered the runners into the home stretch, Baylor gained a few strides and won by less than a second.

Despite falling short, the team, which consisted of all Minnesota natives, captured a new school record with a time of 3:01.80.

Potter said it was the critics who made the finish most satisfying.

“Every time we competed we had to go out and prove ourselves because they thought we were a fluke Ö After we finished, people came up to us and said, ‘you showed you guys weren’t a fluke.’ That’s pretty cool.”

Brandstatter fourth

Besides Buzard’s performance, Minnesota’s coach Phil Lundin said the biggest surprise of the meet was junior Travis Brandstatter’s fourth-place finish in the decathlon.

Brandstatter earned his first All-American honor after racking up the second-highest point total in school history with 7,736.

“It was amazing to see him develop throughout the year,” Lundin said. “It will be fun to see him continue to develop and vie for a national title next year.”

Two more honored

Juniors Karl Erickson and Kevin Netzer rounded out the list of Minnesota All-Americans with two top-eight finishes in their respective field events for the Gophers.

Erickson took fifth in the discus with a throw of 192-3. The finish made Erickson a three-time All-American.

Netzer placed eighth after clearing 7-2 1/2. It was his first All-American honor.

Women compete

Senior pole vaulter Monica Stearns and sophomore shot putter Liz Alabi represented Minnesota’s women’s track and field team at the championships.

Stearns concluded her college career after clearing 12-9 1/2, which was good for 20th place.

Alabi threw the shot put 45-5 and placed 29th.