Dorniden just misses second NCAA title

Chris Lempesis

When Minnesota’s women’s track and field coach Gary Wilson describes his team’s 19th-place finish at last week’s NCAA Outdoor Championships, it’s easy to see, despite lower placement, the Gophers performed well.

“That’s the fourth time (in school history) we’ve been in the top 20,” said Wilson, who was named Midwest District and Midwest Region Coach of the Year at the NCAAs. “And there’s 325 Division I schools, and only 77 scored, and we were 19th, so you can’t fault that.”

Minnesota tallied 14 team points in the championships – held in Sacramento, Calif. – and it becomes even tougher to fault the Gophers’ finish when looking at some of the individual performances out West.

Minnesota had three competitors reach final events; topping that list was the showing by freshman Heather Dorniden.

Dorniden finished second overall in the 800-meter finals with a time of 2:03.02, less than a second behind Oregon freshman Rebekah Noble (2:02.07).

The result was a flip-flop from the same event at the NCAA Indoor Championships in March, when Dorniden bested Noble by eight one-hundredths of a second.

Dorniden said she wasn’t able to top Noble’s kick near the end of the race.

“My pace was fine going through the 400 (meter mark),” Dorniden said, “and then I was still up until the last like 30 meters or so. Then she had that kick again, except it started a little bit earlier this time.”

While Dorniden – named Midwest District and Midwest Region Track Athlete of the Year at NCAAs – wasn’t able to pull off the indoor and outdoor sweep, but Wilson said he wasn’t disappointed one bit.

“I couldn’t have been happier with what she’s done this whole year,” he said. “For a freshman to be first and second in the nation in two seasons is really something.”

Junior Emily Brown turned in another strong finish for the Gophers in the 3,000-meter steeplechase finals. Brown finished fourth overall and broke the school record she set at the Big Ten Championships last month with a time of 9:56.62.

“Every time she runs, she seems to set a record,” Wilson said. “I mean, nothing surprises me. She’s obviously a quality athlete and has done a great job this year.”

Minnesota’s other finalist was junior Liz Alabi, who finished 12th overall in the hammer throw.

While not a finalist per se because there were no preliminaries, sophomore Liz Roehrig had a solid showing in the heptathlon, finishing eighth.

Although these performances were not quite enough for the Gophers to break into the top 15 as a team, all nine competitors that went to the championships will be back on the team next season to give it another go.

That group – coupled with some talented incoming freshmen and some current team members whom Wilson believes will improve over the next year – has Minnesota thinking it could be looking down at whoever finishes 19th at NCAAs next year.

“We could take as many as 15 kids to the national meet next year,” Wilson said. “And with that I think we can move up maybe into the top 10, which would be great.”

Men finish tied for 22nd

Minnesota’s men’s track and field team also brought nine competitors to Sacramento last week.

The Gophers finished with 11 points, enough for a four-way tie for 22nd place with UCLA, Washington and South Alabama.

“You’re always hoping for a few more points,” coach Phil Lundin said. “I was hoping to maybe break into the top 15 nationally – but, I guess, that’s the way it is.”

Minnesota’s top performer at the NCAAs was senior thrower Karl Erickson.

Erickson closed out his career at Minnesota on a high, finishing fourth in shot put and discus.

Those finishes earned Erickson his sixth and seventh All-Americam honors, giving him the new school mark for All-Americam honors in men’s individual events. The previous record was held by thrower Ron Backes, who had five from 1984-1986.

Erickson said he wasn’t even aware he had set a new mark until someone told him in Sacramento.

“Obviously we’re going to miss him dearly,” Lundin said of Erickson. “But he represented Minnesota very well.”

The Gophers had three other competitors reach final events – junior Aaron Buzard (eighth in the 400-meter run finals); senior Kevin Netzer (12th in high jump finals); and junior Derek Gearman (12th in triple jump finals).

“I don’t think we had the results in the final that we wanted with those guys,” Lundin said. “But still, overall, it wasn’t bad.”