Gophers gear up for final test before conference meet

The men’s team will be split between meets in Iowa City and Stanford, Calif.

by Derek Wetmore

The Gophers menâÄôs track and field team has its final preparation against Division I competition before the Big Ten outdoor championships May 14-16 in Bloomington, Ind. Most of the team is heading to the Musco Twilight in Iowa City while several of the elite distance runners will travel to Stanford, Calif., to face stiff competition in the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational . The Iowa Twilight is the last chance for many of MinnesotaâÄôs athletes to compete against upper-echelon opponents prior to the conference meet. Head coach Steve Plasencia said that the team will look for individuals to prepare themselves while facing a high level of competition and challenges the Gophers to raise the bar before seasonâÄôs end. âÄúThis is probably our last good opportunity for guys to start getting their performances in line with where they need to be when we go the conference championships,âÄù Plasencia said. Assistant coaches Paul Thornton and Lynden Reder will take the reins of the team in Iowa in hopes of preparing for the upcoming Big Ten meet. Plasencia said he will accompany the small group to Stanford because the Payton Jordan contains high-caliber competition and focuses on distance events. âÄúItâÄôs a real good opportunity for the distance runners out at Stanford,âÄù Plasencia said. Chris Rombough , Mike Torchia and Matt Barrett will be running the 5,000-meter race and will be joined by teammates Ben Blankenship and Andy Richardson who will compete in the 1,500. Minnesota has registered four 800-meter runners as well: Travis Burkstrand, David Pachuta , Joe McFarland and Harun Abda. The final competitor accompanying the distance group will be high-jumper Matt Fisher. Entering a final tune-up meet can cause anxiety for a team, but the coaching staff said the men are ready and excited as they head into competition this weekend. âÄúWe feel good about it as a team in general just based off of what we did indoors,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúBut it is time to step it up again and get our confidence up.âÄù Plasencia said the Gophers need to continue to improve to keep pace with the competition in the Big Ten. âÄúWeâÄôre definitely heading in the right direction,âÄù Plasencia said. McGinnis honored After winning the decathlon at the Drake Relays last weekend, R.J. McGinnis earned Big TenâÄôs Field Co-Athlete of the Week . McGinnis was the first Minnesota athlete ever to win the decathlon at Drake. It is the second such award of McGinnisâÄô career. Women heading to Iowa The Gophers womenâÄôs team is no longer competing in the Robinson Invitational this Saturday in Provo, Utah due to wintery weather concerns. Instead, many of the athletes will travel to Iowa to compete in the Musco Twilight. Many of the top talents who competed in the Drake Relays last weekend will take the weekend off to prepare for the upcoming Big Ten outdoor championships. The primary exception is Alena Brooks , who earned two silver medals at the Caribbean Carifta Games earlier this spring. Brooks will be competing in her first outdoor open-800.