Women’s track team finishes a surprising fifth

by Tim Klobuchar

Balanced scoring, an Olympian effort in the javelin and a few school record performances propelled the Gophers women’s track and field team to a fifth-place finish at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships this weekend.
Minnesota scored 71 points, 12 points behind Ohio State. Wisconsin narrowly defeated Illinois, 149-148, to win the championship, which was held at University Park, Pa. Illinois won the indoor championships this year and both the indoor and outdoor titles in 1995.
The Gophers got 25 points from their throwers, 24 from the sprinters, jumpers and hurdlers, and 22 from their distance runners.
“That’s the nicest stat,” head coach Gary Wilson said. “That’s the most balanced we’ve ever been.”
Junior Tanya Simonsen won the javelin with a Nittany Lion track record throw of 174 feet, 9 inches. That throw automatically qualified Simonsen for not only the NCAA Championships later this month, but also the U.S. Olympic Trials in June.
“I felt I was more relaxed than all year,” Simonsen said. “And there was lots of pressure from the Penn State women, and I guess I just got lucky.”
Simonsen was the only Gopher to win one of the 19 individual titles and one of only five title winners who wasn’t from Illinois or Wisconsin. Minnesota had several other strong performances, however.
Yvette White and Apasha Blocker, both freshmen, set school outdoor records.
White, from Washington, D.C., ran the qualifying heat of the 100-meter hurdles on Saturday in 14.06 seconds, bettering Sarah Redman’s old mark by .02. She finished eighth overall in Sunday’s finals.
White also finished second in the 400 hurdles, and ran in the 400 and 1,600 relays, where she finished sixth in both events. All four of White’s finals events were on Sunday.
Blocker broke her own school record with 5,153 points in the heptathlon, which concluded Saturday. The Brockport, N.Y., native finished second overall in the event to Tania Longe of Michigan.
Blocker moved from third to second by doing well in the final event — and her least favorite one — the 800 run. She also gave the impression she can still do much better.
“I hated the 800 the most, but if you’re down, it brings you up,” Blocker said. “My body was really tired, and I didn’t sleep well.”
Senior Andrea Grove accounted for all of Minnesota’s points in the distance events, finishing second in the 3,000 and 1,500. Grove had already provisionally qualified for NCAAs in those events earlier this year.
An upper-division finish in the Big Ten had been Wilson’s goal all year long. Although that didn’t appear too lofty, he had reason to expect worse, especially since his team finished last in the Big Ten Indoor Championships in February.
Dani Parkos and Kim Martin, Big Ten champions last year, were redshirted, Grove was coming off a back injury that sidelined her for the outdoor season last year, and the Gophers had to rely heavily on freshmen. In the end, though, everything fell into place.
“Overall it was a great day, especially for the way the year started out,” Wilson said. “We competed with tremendous pride and enthusiasm. A lot of kids on other teams just wanted to get home, but we competed like we wanted to be there.”