Heptathlete leads women’s track team

Allison Younge

Sophomore heptathlete Apasha Blocker has distinguished herself as the Gophers track and field team’s wonder woman through repeated success in her seven grueling events. The 200-meter race, 800, 100 hurdles, shot put, long jump, high jump and the javelin combine to form the heptathlon — Blocker’s forte.
“I like the hep — everything together,” Blocker said. “I have to change faces. First I’m a hurdler, then a jumper, then a thrower, then a sprinter. It’s a challenge.”
Last week at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia, Blocker provisionally qualified for the NCAA championships in the heptathlon with 5,146 points. Assistant coach Jahan Culbreath was impressed with Blocker’s two-day performance.
“Apasha was very focused in her competition, but she was also very relaxed,” Culbreath said. “It was exciting to see her step up among some great competition.”
Blocker’s score at the Penn Relays was just seven points shy of the school record (5,153) which she set last year at the Big Ten championships.
Blocker’s career with the Gophers has gotten off to an impressive start. Besides breaking the school record in the heptathlon as a freshman, she also shattered the school and NCAA freshman varsity record in the pentathlon at the Big Tens. At this year’s Big Ten Indoor Championships, Blocker placed third in the heptathlon.
“She’s an outstanding athlete, gifted with tremendous talent,” Culbreath said. “Her inner strength compliments her abilities.”
Blocker’s achievements have led her to form heightened goals for the remainder of her eligibility at Minnesota.
“I’m not just thinking about going into Big Tens anymore,” Blocker said. “Now, it’s going to nationals and eventually winning a national championship.”
While growing up in Brockport, N.Y., Blocker’s mind wasn’t always so focused on track and field. Her junior and senior years of high school were intermingled with two seasons of basketball.
Both years, after finishing with the basketball season, Blocker competed at the track and field national tournament.
“My junior year, nationals were at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, and my track coach wanted me to go,” Blocker said. “I was like, whatever, I just got out of basketball.”
Blocker decided to compete at nationals, even though she didn’t have time to train. She took third in the heptathlon her junior year and placed first in the event her senior year. These meets gave Blocker the exposure she needed to receive several top-notch scholarship offers.
Blocker’s decision to attend Minnesota wasn’t difficult after meeting Gophers assistant coach (at that time) Angie Taylor. She clicked with Taylor right away and looked forward to working with her.
After Blocker signed, however, Taylor accepted a job offer and left the Gophers program. This was hard on Blocker as a freshman. She missed her high school coach and the training stability that she had at home.
Blocker trained under Gophers assistant coach Rolando Greene as a freshman, but Greene left the program after one year, forcing another coaching change.
Even though switching coaches has been a struggle, Blocker is happy with Culbreath and hopes he will continue to work with the Gophers.
“Hopefully Jahan will be here until I graduate, stability is what I like,” Blocker said. “I feel like we have a strong base, the team looks great. Timing is everything, and I think right now, we’ve got it.”
Culbreath doesn’t hold back when speaking of the immense potential he sees in Blocker.
“Apasha is coming on now, and she’s just going to get better and better,” Culbreath said. “She has the ability and focus that it takes to reach the highest levels in track and field.”
Blocker will take the weekend off to rest up for specific event training during the next few weeks. She will compete in individual events at selected meets until the Big Tens, and she will strive for NCAA automatic qualifying standards.
“I’m going to try to sharpen little things up technically to improve my score,” Blocker said. “It’s just a matter of me doing simple things, being more aggressive and focused.”
Note: All but two Gophers athletes will compete in the Minnesota Classic on Saturday. Daphne Panhuysen and Shellie Braggs will miss the meet because of injuries.