Change of standards renders NCAA regional meet much more important

by David McCoy

Minnesota’s men’s and women’s track and field teams have sent competitors to the NCAA Midwest Regional before, and a good number have gone knowing they’d likely still qualify for NCAAs even if they performed poorly.

But as far as that’s concerned, Minnesota has sent its last one.

That’s because this year, new NCAA qualifying standards put much more emphasis on the athlete’s performance on the day of the regional.

“Last year, if you were ranked 15th to 20th in the United States going in and you screwed up, chances were still good you’d get in at-large,” Gophers coach Phil Lundin said.

But starting this year, an athlete must finish in the top five in his or her event at regionals to guarantee an appearance at the NCAA Championships. Without the top-five finish, he or she has to place in the top eight to even have a chance of getting an at-large bid.

“It’s good and bad,” Lundin said. “For our high jumpers, we have two All-Americans, Big Ten champs. It worries me, but that’s how it is.”

Others aren’t so worried, even though they’re in a similar situation.

Seeded sixth in the shot put and fourth in the discus, women’s thrower Liz Podominick said she’s got other things to worry about.

“I have a really good chance of qualifying, and it doesn’t really matter where you’re seeded – it’s how you compete and if you can compete at a big meet,” Podominick said. “I’m just trying not to worry about what other people throw.”

Needless to say, it’s much easier for Podominick to hold that mindset than a coach, whose only course of action is to think and think.

Of course, there are exceptions this weekend. But only a couple.

The men’s team’s Andrew Carlson has already qualified for NCAAs in the 10,000 meters, as has Travis Brandstatter in the decathlon.

But for everybody else, that means much more pressure on the fateful day.

“It’s more stressful going in because you’ve got to get the top five, and that’s pretty hard for guys, mentally,” sophomore sprinter Aaron Buzard said. “You don’t really want to focus on that, per se, as much as you do on your event, but it’s something in the back of your mind.”

New Field House surface

The track surface in Minnesota’s Field House is in the process of getting an upgrade. The old surface had deteriorated.

The project, headed by the department of recreational sports, began May 2 when the floor was prepped for the new Mondo surface. On May 9, the new flooring was laid, and on Monday the lines began to be painted, recreational sports manager Bill Melgaard said. Melgaard said the project is expected to be completed Friday.

“It’s beautiful,” women’s track and field coach Gary Wilson said. “I was just in there (Monday) and it’s fantastic.”