At Drake Relays, a litmus test for looming Big Ten Championships

Dane Mizutani

Rain was in the forecast yet again Tuesday afternoon, making an outdoor practice virtually impossible for the menâÄôs track and field team. A prolonged Minnesota winter and the sporadic weather conditions that followed have made for a bumpy transition from the indoor to the outdoor season.

Still, the Gophers continue to push forward with their sights set on the Drake Relays this week in Des Moines, Iowa, where head coach Steve Plasencia wants his athletes to come in with a focused mindset.

âÄúI donâÄôt put a ton of expectations on guys, but I do expect them to compete hard and put their best foot forward when they get out on the competition field,âÄù he said. âÄúIâÄôd like to see us have some fun down there and win an event or two.âÄù

David Pachuta will run in the 800-meter this week at the Drake Relays, fresh off a career-best time of 1 minute, 48.91 seconds at the Iowa Musco Twilight last weekend.

Pachuta also earned a spot of the GophersâÄô 4×800-meter that is headed to Des Moines. Pachuta will run with fellow 800-meter runners Harun Abda, Nick Hutton and Travis Burkstrand.

âÄúWe have the luxury of having a hard time picking whoâÄôs going to run it for us,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúWe definitely have a deep group of 800-meter runners.âÄù

Sean King and Cameron Boy will compete for Minnesota in the 100-meter dash, but will be running against each other in the second heat of that event.

The Gophers will also be looking for a positive contribution in the field events at the Drake Relays.

Ben Peterson and Micah Hegerle have led Minnesota in the field this season and both will look to be in top form in Des Moines this week.

Peterson won the pole vault in his most recent competition, the LSU Alumni Gold Invitational, with an outdoor season-best height of 17 feet, 7.75 inches.

Peterson will compete with teammates Brock Spandl and Jack Szmanda in the pole vault.

Hegerle also performed well the last time he threw the hammer, placing second overall and first among collegiate competitors. HegerleâÄôs distance of 209 feet, 3 inches at the Iowa Musco Twilight was not a season-best mark, but he will look to increase his distance at the Drake Relays and ultimately at the Big Ten championships in two weeks.

The Gophers will send three other relay teams to Iowa this week: the 4×100, 4×400 and 4×1600-meter.

Women also prepping for Drake

While the menâÄôs team will have more meets to prepare for the Big Ten championship, this is the final weekend of the regular season for the womenâÄôs track and field team.

The Drake Relays serve as the final tune-up before the conference meet in two weeks.

Minnesota freshman Katie Moraczewski has developed well this season and will run in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in one of the biggest meets of the season.

Moraczewski has consistently dropped her time as the year has progressed.  

The Gophers will also send a 4×800- and 4×1600-meter relay team to compete in the Drake Relays as well.

In the field, Minnesota will be looking towards All-American Samantha Sonnenberg on pole vault. Sonnenberg has used the outdoor season to build on her success during the indoor season. Her latest victory came at the UW-River Falls Invitational, where she cleared a height of 13 feet, 9.25 inches.

Competing with Sonnenberg in the pole vault is Becca Pilkerton.

Pilkerton won the pole vault at the Jim Click Shootout nearly a month ago, clearing a height of 12 feet, 6 inches.

Minnesota will wait until Thursday to travel to Des Moines, Iowa.