Three years ago, Nate Roese, Mitch Hechsel and Goaner Deng finally became teammates at the University of Minnesota. The trio had aspirations to be a powerful force in the 400-meter dash.
“We all had ran against each other a couple times in high school,” Roese said. “We were excited to finally be racing with, instead of against, each other.”
And while all three are hoping to snag the Big Ten title in the 400-meter dash for the Gophers in a little more than a week, their competitive spirit from high school showdowns remains.
In fact, it intensified during their first year on campus. Roese and Hechsel had to redshirt one year, but Deng didn’t when he arrived to campus a year earlier.
“Coming in, I knew that redshirting was a possibility, but it was also something that I wanted to try and avoid,” Hechsel said. “In the end, it was beneficial, but it was definitely tough — especially with [Deng] competing [right away].”
However, the trio had to wait to develop bragging rights until all three actually started competing.
That opportunity surfaced last year during the Big Ten indoor championships. There, Roese and Hechsel both competed in the 600-meter dash with Roese’s sixth-place finish edging Hechsel’s 15th.
But once again, Deng was able to one-up his teammates with his fifth-place finish in the 800-meter run.
“You always love to see your teammates succeed,” Roese said. “I was pretty excited about my sixth-place finish, so it really didn’t matter if [Deng] had a better finish.
If anything, it made it more special since we could share our success.”
The trio has had plenty of successes worthy of celebration this year — both individually and as teammates.
At February’s Big Ten indoor championships, Hechsel and Roese finished first and second, respectively, in the 600-meter dash. Deng took home fifth in the 800-meter run.
During the outdoor season, all three athletes competed on head coach Steve Plasencia’s relay teams. Roese and Hechsel were paired together.
“When we recruited all three of them, we certainly hoped that one day they would be one of the better mid-distance groups in the Big Ten,” Plasencia said. “[Deng] really is more of an 800-meter runner, but he can push Nate and Mitch in the 400 too.”
That was the case last weekend when the Gophers competed at Iowa for one of their last tune-ups before championship season.
At the meet, all three finished in the top 10 in the 400-meter dash. Roese’s second-place finish topped the group.
Plasencia couldn’t confirm if all three would compete in the 400-meter dash at next week’s Big Ten outdoor championships. But if they do, another set of bragging rights is up for grabs.
“Mitch had his title earlier this year. Goaner had the best finish of the three of us last year. [It] looks like it should be my turn to show out this time,” Roese said. “If I don’t do it now, it’ll be a long wait until next year.”