Minnesota puts reputation on line at Drake Relays

The more than 100-year-old meet will be a showcase for distance races and relays.

Megan Ryan

Minnesota’s history of success at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa, is almost as long as the 103-year history of the meet itself.

The Gophers participated in the first meet in 1910 and have won 51 titles at the relays since then.

At last year’s meet alone, the men’s track and field team won the 4×800-meter relay and the distance medley relay.

The winning 4×800 relay will return all of its runners for this weekend. David Pachuta, Nick Hutton, Travis Burkstrand and Harun Abda will attempt to defend their title April 25-28.

“I’m not sure that we have to do too much [to prepare for Drake Relays] because it’s a tradition that a lot of the guys understand,” head men’s coach Steve Plasencia said. “When you start putting those relay teams together … it’s big for kids to be a part of that.”

The men’s distance medley relay team will not return all of its title-winning members. Three of the four — Hutton, Bradley and Burkstrand — will race, but Pachuta will replace last year’s anchor Hassan Mead. Last year’s Drake Relays was one of the first meets in which Mead competed at full health.

This year, Mead will instead compete at the Payton Jordan Invite at Stanford on April 29.

“I’m excited I get to go to California, but I know we’ve had success at Drake, and it’s a relay, and it’s a team thing,” Mead said. “I get to do something just outside the team.”

While the rest of Minnesota will run team-oriented relays, Mead will pursue an individual goal. The senior said he hopes to reach an Olympic trial automatic qualifying time of 28 minutes, 15 seconds in the 10,000 meters.

“Hopefully, by the end of the weekend we accomplish that, because that’s one of our main goals,” Mead said.

He said going to the Olympics is “one of those wild dreams.”

Other members of the men’s team will also compete at the Macalester Twilight on April 26 in St. Paul.

Women

The women added a 4×1,600 relay title to the men’s trophy list from the 2011 Drake Relays.

The Gophers have won the event for three consecutive years.

“It’s a big deal. It’s a tradition,” head women’s cross country coach Gary Wilson said. “It’s not about how fast you run, your individual leg. It’s not about time. It’s about place.”

Wilson will accompany the team to the Drake Relays in place of head women’s track and field coach Matt Bingle, who will travel with other team members to the Steve Scott Invitational in Irvine, Calif.

Assistant coach Sarah Hesser, a former competitor at the meet with the Gophers, said the expectation is for the women to uphold Minnesota’s reputation.

“It’s just one of those meets that has such an aura,” Hesser said. “In terms of intensity and in terms of emotionality that goes with it, it’s very similar to a conference meet.”

This Drake Relays marks Katie Moraczewski’s second appearance. The sophomore usually runs individual distance events, but she will run the 4×1,600 relay in Iowa.

“It’s really fun, because whenever you’re in a relay, it’s just kind of a different game,” Moraczewski said. “Magic kind of happens, because you want to run for your team, and you end up running faster.”

In addition to the Drake Relays, the women’s team will also have representatives at several other meets across the country.

Some athletes will compete at the Hamline Twilight April 25 in St. Paul. Others will race at the Macalester Invitational in St. Paul and the Steve Scott Invitational.