Youth-dominated contingent leads women to regional

David McCoy

How about, “Liz Podominick for president?”

Maybe she could balance the ticket with Liz Roehrig on board for vice president.

If so, you probably wouldn’t hear any objections from Minnesota women’s track and field coach Gary Wilson, especially after the kind of season the pair of freshmen is having.

“Age means nothing,” Wilson said. “I mean, John F. Kennedy was one of the best leaders we’ve ever had in this country, and he was 42 years old when he got elected. You don’t have to be 75 to be a leader.”

All joking aside, Minnesota’s leadership has been coming largely from its underclassmen. As the team heads into the NCAA Midwest Regionals this weekend in Norman, Okla., six of its 12 individual competitors are freshmen.

Roehrig was the Big Ten indoor freshman of the year as well as first-team All-Big Ten, while Podominick followed up with both outdoor awards.

But Minnesota’s stories of unseasoned success don’t stop there.

Fellow freshman Ruby Radocaj was a second-team All-Big Ten outdoor honoree, as was freshman Andrea Smith – both indoor and outdoor.

Freshmen also contributed 56.5 of the Gophers’ 92 team points at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships – 61.4 percent.

But the fact that half his qualifiers haven’t ever been to a regional doesn’t scare Wilson at all, he said.

“Just look at how they did at Big Tens,” Wilson said. “They knew that was a huge meet, and they handled it like champs – obviously.”

Along with the freshmen, Minnesota’s regional competitors are seniors Melissa Steele in the 400-meter hurdles, Liz Woolford in the 100 hurdles, juniors Nina Cotolupenco in the hammer throw, Mollie Hupp in the 800, Jess Stephan in the discus and sophomore Emily Brown in the 3,000 steeplechase.

The other half is freshmen Gabriele Anderson in the 800 meters, Podominick in the discus and shot put, Smith in the pole vault, Radocaj in the javelin and Roehrig in the high jump. Half of Minnesota’s 4×400 relay team is underclassmen as well, making for not only a solid season this year, but quite an intimidating future for the Gophers.

“Well, it obviously should scare some other teams,” Podominick said. “Because if we’re this good right now with our young teammates, we’re going to be pretty darn good once we start maturing and competing even more and get used to college.”

Brandstatter just the jav

Minnesota’s men’s track and field team has two automatic NCAA qualifiers Andrew Carlson in the 10,000 and decathlete Travis Brandstatter.

With that in mind, Brandstatter said he decided he will not be running in this weekend’s Midwest regional in the 110 hurdles and will focus exclusively on his javelin throw.

“I’ve been in a lot of multi-(events),” Brandstatter said. “So I haven’t had a lot of opportunity to train for it, along with working on my senior project.”

Carlson will be running in the 5,000.

Buzard set to return

Gophers men’s sophomore runner Aaron Buzard also had to skip a recent event – but it wasn’t by choice.

A hamstring injury kept Buzard out of the Big Ten Outdoor Championships, but he’s set to return to compete in this weekend’s 400.

He said he feels like he’s at approximately 90 percent of full health.

Schoenfelder evolved

Gophers senior thrower Curt Schoenfelder will compete in both the discuss and hammer throw this weekend.

Coach Phil Lundin said Schoenfelder is one of the great stories of this year.

“He’s done a hell of a job,” Lundin said. “Prior to this year, he was so close in the discus and shot put. But this year, he has developed into a Big Ten-caliber thrower.”

Other competitors

Along with those already mentioned, Minnesota’s men’s team is sending an additional 11 competitors: John Albert, Bryant Howe and Josh Paulson in the high jump; Trent Riter in the 800; Ryan Ford in the 1,500; Eric Grumstrup and Ryan Malmin in the 3,000 steeplechase; Malmin in the 5,000 along with Antonio Vega; Adam Schnaible in the shot put and hammer throw; Andy Tilstra in the hammer throw and discus; and Jason Swenson in the javelin.