Improvement, not win

by Jim Schortemeyer

By all accounts, last year was not a good one for the Minnesota women’s track and field team. In the spring, the Gophers finished seventh in the Big Ten championships.
While nobody’s talking about a championship at this weekend’s indoor championships, everybody’s talking about improvement. The Gophers lost two seniors from last year’s team, neither of whom earned points.
Coach Gary Wilson said he sees a wide range of possibilities for the weekend.
“I think, literally, what you’ll see is we’ll finish anywhere from fourth to eighth,” he said. “There’s going to be less than 20 points between those spots.”
Minnesota is bolstered by a returning group of throwers that swept the championships last spring.
“I don’t want to belabor this point, but they really are the backbone for the points,” throws coach Lynne Anderson said.
But that’s not to say they’ll go unchallenged. Last year, sophomore Aubrey Schmitt won the shot put by 1/4-inch over Penn State’s Jen Pastore, who was injured.
Pastore will be healthier this time around, but Schmitt doesn’t seem concerned.
“I don’t feel the pressure so much,” Schmitt said. “I think we can take the top two places in the shot and hammer throw.”
Schmitt is aided by the return of junior Nicole Chimko, who consistently pushes Schmitt with good throws of her own. But this weekend’s action won’t center on the throwing events alone.
The Gophers are chock-full of returning runners and jumpers, led by junior Rasa Michniovaite, who finished third at the Big Ten cross country championships.
Fellow junior Minna Haronoja is the highest returning runner from last spring’s championships — she finished sixth in the 3000-meters.
But Minnesota’s hottest runner might be senior Yvette White. Last year White followed a solid sophomore year with a disappointing junior campaign. This year is a different story.
White has had a sizzling indoor season, setting indoor records in both the 400-meters and 60-meter hurdles. White says she’s having a better season, but was subdued in her feelings about this weekend’s championships.
“We have a couple people down, but everybody does,” White said. “If everybody does what they’re supposed to do, we’ll have a good meet.
Senior Kim Heath set a team record in the 60-meter dash last month, but the sprinters have had some injury problems.
“This is (sprints coach Sidney Cartwright’s) first indoor season and he’s had a couple people hurt. He told me `I didn’t realize how devastating this indoor track can be,'” Wilson said.
But the strength of this team remains in the field events. Junior Christine Gulbrandsen set team pole vault and triple jump marks this season and the throwers are strong. Wilson said the field events are where teams can win or lose championships.
“Technical events, that’s how the men won last year,” Wilson said.
Wilson was quick to point out that Minnesota isn’t going to win the indoor meet. Many of the team’s best events are in the outdoor season, when they expect to do better.
The Gophers haven’t won either championship since 1958, and haven’t placed higher than third under Wilson.
“We’re just very solid outdoors,” Wilson said. “This is the best team I’ve ever had.”