Men continue improvements; Docherty makes first NCAA meet

The Gophers will send 10 men and one woman to the NCAA championships.

Minnesota junior Laura Docherty runs at the Jack Johnson Women's Gold - Division I on Sept. 29, 2012 at Les Bolstad Golf Course.

Anthony Kwan, Daily File Photo

Minnesota junior Laura Docherty runs at the Jack Johnson Women’s Gold – Division I on Sept. 29, 2012 at Les Bolstad Golf Course.

Charlie Armitz

An unusually cold and wet spring hasn’t stopped the Gophers men’s track and field team from succeeding in the postseason.

After weeks of canceled meets and rescheduling early in the season, Minnesota’s athletes have performed their best in their last two meets — the Big Ten outdoor championships May 10-12 and last weekend’s NCAA regional.

The Gophers sent 25 athletes to the regional in Austin, Texas, and advanced 10 to the NCAA championships for the second year in a row. Two weeks earlier, they placed second at the conference outdoor meet.

“We have a pretty veteran team with some senior leaders,” head coach Steve Plasencia said, “and I think they’ve done a good job of making the guys aware that when you get to the end of the year, you’re going to have to be doing your best.”

Improved weather in May has also helped the Gophers. They rarely competed in ideal conditions in March and April, when snow or rain were a factor most weekends.

Seven men athletes qualified in individual events for the NCAA meet, which will be held in Eugene, Ore., on June 5-8.

The team’s 4×400-meter relay of seniors Harun Abda and Cameron Boy, junior Jacob Capek and freshman Goaner Deng also qualified. The relay capped the Gophers’ strong weekend by running the sixth-fastest time in school history (3:06.12) on Saturday.

Freshman Wally Ellenson, a member of the Gophers basketball team, qualified Thursday with a high jump of 7 feet 1 inch — less than an inch short of his personal record.

Plasencia said the strong performances of Ellenson and senior Oladipo Fagbemi stood out to him. Fagbemi set a personal record in the triple jump to qualify.

“He’s been building momentum all spring,” Plasencia said of Fagbemi. “It just lined up for him.”

Plasencia said seniors Quentin Mege and Abda have the best chance to succeed at the NCAA meet. Mege threw 66.33 meters Saturday, the second-farthest distance at the regional. Abda ran the 800 meters in 1:48.18 on Friday to advance.

Senior Micah Hegerle will join Mege in the hammer throw, and senior Travis Burkstrand will join Abda in the 800. Plasencia said sending multiple athletes to the NCAA meet in the same event gives them an advantage.

“Having a strong level of comfort on the national level I think is important,” Plasencia said. “You have more of a normal team situation versus just one or two guys going.”

Docherty makes first NCAA meet

The Gophers women’s team will send just one athlete — junior distance runner Laura Docherty — to the championships.

Eleven other Minnesota athletes competed at the Austin, Texas, regional and did not advance.

Docherty ran a personal-best time of 16:10 in the 5,000 meters Saturday to make her first NCAA meet.

The junior has been a bright spot on a women’s team that has struggled this year. She set a school record in the 10,000 in March, placed in the top five in both the 5,000 and 10,000 at the Big Ten outdoor championships and focused on just the 5,000 for the regional.

“Last year she had a great breakthrough at the end of the year … and it just rolled into this year,” head coach Matt Bingle said. “She had a good summer and trained smart and then had a great cross country season. Things just kept going and going for her.”