DES MOINES, Iowa – Mitch Potter couldn’t be happier, even though he couldn’t breathe.
Beaming like a proud father, the 25-year-old former Minnesota men’s track and field runner was all smiles at the conclusion of Friday and Saturday’s Drake relays.
It wasn’t because he had just won the 400-meter special – although that probably had a little to do with it.
As he was lying on his back in the tunnel beneath Drake Stadium trying to take in air and keep in his lunch, Potter couldn’t stop gushing about Aaron Buzard, the Gophers junior who finished second to make for a past-and-present, Minnesota one-two punch.
“It’s fun also that I kind of feel like I mentored Aaron Buzard,” Potter said. “It wasn’t competition between us. It was just us trying to go one-two, and that’s exactly what we did.”
Buzard finished 0.51 seconds behind Potter in the 400-meter special placing as the event’s top collegian. Coach Phil Lundin said Buzard would have done even better if it hadn’t been for a disadvantage at the start.
“I was kind of disappointed that he got an outside lane, not having any other lanes that were full until the inner five, which really kind of put him out of the race initially,” Lundin said. “He went out a little too conservatively and then he wasn’t quite able to make it up. I think if Buz would have been in the mix initially he probably would have won it.”
It didn’t take Buzard long to impress Potter again.
In the next men’s race, which started a little more than an hour later, Buzard put a solid close on the men’s performance at Drake in running the anchor leg of the 4-by-400 meter relay.
A botched relay exchange between Adewole Adebayo and Jason Erickson on the first handoff would have put Minnesota in second-to-last if it hadn’t been for a solid close by Buzard.
Adebayo said it felt like the baton was slipping from Erickson’s hand as he handed it off.
But Buzard came from several strides behind to pass runners from Texas State and Illinois State in the final two seconds to push the Gophers into fourth.
“That’s what we train for,” Buzard said. “Just had to get some carbs in between the races.”
Buzard and Potter’s finishes weren’t Minnesota’s only top performances.
Senior Karl Erickson matched his season-best with a 61-foot, 9 3/4-inch throw to win the shot put Friday.
But after falling short of potential in the discus by taking third with a 182-foot, 10-inch throw, Erickson was only lukewarm about the weekend.
“I don’t think I’ve ever thrown in a puddle,” Erickson said. “But everybody had to throw like that. It kind of sucks that I threw so bad in the discus right before Big Tens. I guess nothing special.”
Saturday’s wet weather was most clearly exemplified by the discus circle, which was filled with water.
The weather forced the men’s high jump special indoors, where Minnesota’s Kevin Netzer finished third with a 7-foot, 1/2-inch leap. John Albert followed with a fifth-place finish of 6 feet, 10 3/4 inches.
“They were solid,” Lundin said. “We’re still trying to get the magic back from previous years and I think we’re on track to do so. They’re looking better. I think we’ll be OK when it counts. They looked better than at Indoors.”
Aside from Buzard’s solid performance in the 4-by-400 meter relay, Minnesota had another solid performance in the 4-by-800 meter relay.
Although the team of Walter Langkau, Ben Hanson, Hans Storvick and Trent Riter fell short of expectations of setting a new school record, it’s second-place performance of 7:24.18 still stood as the fifth-fastest time in school history.
Potter said he’s coming back to Minnesota on June 1. And perhaps his return to help train the Gophers could lead to more success in the future.
“My goal is to come back there and help (Lundin) out,” Potter said. “He put me through college and hopefully I’ll be able to help Buz. I’d like to give back to the program.”