Women look to leap into top half of B-10

After a ninth-place finish last year, the Gophers think third place is within reach.

Matt Anderson

Last season at the Big Ten Indoor Track and Field Championships, Minnesota’s women’s track and field team finished ninth out of 10 teams.

By the time the outdoor meet rolled around three months later, the Gophers were able to move up one spot to eighth.

Freshened by an infusion of youth this year, Minnesota hopes to turn its steps into leaps and bounds at this weekend’s Big Ten Indoor Championships in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Although top Big Ten teams No. 8 Michigan and No. 21 Penn State likely will prevent Minnesota from contending for the conference title, Gophers coach Gary Wilson said his team has the ability to finish anywhere from third to seventh in the parity-muddled Big Ten second tier.

Wilson said he hopes his young team can use the championships as a jumping-off point heading into the future.

“This team is kind of like a fine wine,” Wilson said. “They’re going to be good this year, but in the spring, they’re going to be even better, and then next year they’re going to be better, and then even better.”

Out of the 32 athletes who will make the trip to Michigan, 20 of them will be making their first appearance at Big Tens, most likely making for an antsier team than usual.

“I have the tendency of getting very nervous before races,” freshman distance runner Ladia Albertson-Junkans said. “Part of that is inexperience; part of it is uncertainty as to where I’m supposed to fit amongst the veterans.”

Senior distance runner and captain Sarah Hesser said that even through youth and nervousness, the opportunity exists for a very good weekend.

“Everybody’s setting personal-best marks and times,” Hesser said. “If we just continue on that, and don’t get too wrapped up in the fact that it’s the Big Ten meet, and we just go out there and compete like we have been, I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”

Men at Big Tens, too

When Minnesota’s men’s track and field team goes to West Lafayette, Ind., for the Big Ten Indoor Championships this weekend, the rebuilding Gophers said they will focus more on individual achievement than the team’s finish.

“We’re going in there with the idea that everybody we want to get a (personal record),” coach Phil Lundin said. “That’s our goal.”

Individual highlights for Minnesota are expected to come from Bryant Howe in the high jump, Travis Brandstatter in the heptathlon and Aaron Buzard in the 600 yards – in which Lundin said all have a chance to win Big Ten individual titles.