Before the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships – held in Austin, Texas, May 26 and 27 – Minnesota’s women’s track and field coach Gary Wilson said it would be “fantastic” if his team could have 10 competitors qualify for the NCAA Championships.
While the Gophers fell short of that number, Wilson will bring a group to Sacramento, Calif. on June 7 through June 10, with six Gophers qualifying outright and another three earning at-large bids.
The Gophers finished third in the 32-team meet with 51 points. Texas won the team competition with 93 points.
The top individual Minnesota performance, of the six who qualified outright by finishing in the top five of their respective events, belonged to freshman Heather Dorniden.
Dorniden claimed first place in the 800-meter run with a time of 2:07.55. She won the same event at the NCAA Indoor Championships in March in Fayetteville, Ark.
“She did a great job,” Wilson said. “It’s kind of becoming expected but she never takes anything for granted.”
Dorniden had a bit of a different take on her showing, however.
“Honestly, I felt a little lazy just because that region wasn’t a very hard region for me to qualify out of,” she said. “So just knowing that I only had to run a 2:07 to win, it wasn’t that bad because I had just run a 2:02 a couple of weeks ago.”
Another strong performance was turned in by one of the veterans on the team, junior Emily Brown. She finished second in the 3,000 meter steeplechase (10:33.54), even after falling down with about 600 meters to go.
“It was ugly, but she got the job done,” Wilson said of Brown.
The other Gophers who qualified outright were sophomore Liz Podominick (fifth place in the shot put), sophomore Ruby Radocaj (fifth in the javelin throw), junior Liz Alabi (fifth in the hammer) and sophomore Liz Roehrig (fourth in long jump).
Wilson said, however, that Roehrig will not compete in the long jump at nationals and instead will focus on the heptathlon.
The three Gophers who advanced with at-large bids are sophomore Andrea Smith (pole vault), junior Julie Schwengler (800-meter run) and sophomore Christin Kingsley (long jump), Wilson said.
Men finish fourth
Minnesota’s men’s track and field team turned in a regional performance that was almost as strong as the women’s team, finishing fourth out of 30 teams.
The Gophers racked up 51 points – Texas won the men’s team competition with 91 points – and will send a total of nine competitors to Sacramento, Calif.
“We were pleased with the finish,” coach Phil Lundin said. “We were hoping for top three but not being that far out … we’re pleased with the result.”
Minnesota had two athletes win their events, and one of those wins was, in Lundin’s words, a “complete surprise,” as junior Derek Gearman won the triple jump with a leap of 52 feet, 5 1/4 inches.
“We know he’s a tough competitor,” Lundin said. “But to have a personal best by roughly a foot and a half, that’s a huge effort.”
The other Minnesota first-place finish was a bit more expected as junior Aaron Buzard took the 400-meter dash. Buzard, the top seed in the race heading into the regional, won with a time of 45.87.
While his individual win was not a total surprise, the fact that the 1,600-meter relay team that Buzard is a part of – along with sophomore Jason Erickson and redshirt freshmen Adewole Adebayo and Walter Langkau – turned in a third-place finish and qualified for nationals was a shocker.
“Unbelievable,” Lundin said. “I didn’t think that they had a chance but they came through – out of a slow heat, also.”
The other Gophers who qualified outright for the nationals include senior Kevin Netzer (fourth in high jump) and senior Karl Erickson (second in the shot put and discus).
Minnesota had two other athletes earn at-large bids: senior Trent Riter (800-meter run) and senior John Albert (high jump).