The Gophers men's and women's track and field teams competed in six events this week at the NCAA outdoor championships, but they produced only three All-Americans.
Distance runner Hassan Mead and throwers Quentin Mege and Micah Hegerle each earned All-America honors after strong performances Friday.
The first two days of competition proved disappointing, as none of Minnesota's athletes survived the preliminary rounds.
On day one, a nagging ankle injury forced Jack Szmanda to pull out of the decathlon after only three events. The junior suffered the injury two weeks earlier during training.
“He was convinced he could do it, but I think really when the rubber hit the road ... his ankle wasn’t quite ready,” assistant coach Lynden Reder said. “He was asking a lot of an ankle that he hurt pretty badly to come back that quickly.”
Later that day, David Pachuta and Harun Abda failed to make the final in the 800-meter run. The two were placed in a stacked heat, and although they had the seventh and eighth fastest times overall, they did not advance, as they did not finish in the top two of their heat or with the next two fastest times.
Instead, the 13th and 14th place runners qualified.
“There was a lot of ... grousing among coaches in regard to the way we are seeding the heats,” head men's coach Steve Plasencia said. “On the other side of the coin, when the field is announced and you go out there and race, you’ve got to find a way, and we just weren’t finding a way. That’s what Wednesday and Thursday felt like.”
Both Pachuta and Abda broke the school record that Pachuta set earlier in the year at Big Ten championships.
The women’s team had its share of disappointment on the first day as well. The Gophers sent only one event – the 4x100 relay – and it did not advance to the final.
Todea-Kay Willis, Nyoka Giles, Chimerem Okoroji and Kylie Peterson finished five places away from qualifying.
“They kind of went in there with a purpose and were a lot more confident,” head women's coach Matt Bingle said. “Obviously, we would’ve liked to run faster.”
Okoroji said the team has no regrets.
“We came here and we competed well, so we’re pretty happy with how everything went,” Okoroji said.
The second day of competition proved just as difficult for the men. Nick Hutton finished seventh in his preliminary heat of the 1,500 meters and 15th overall. His personal record fell just short of cracking the advancing 12.
Abda and Pachuta’s second chance to make a final also ended in failure. Their 4x400 relay team with Jacob Capek and Kevin Bradley finished sixth in their heat and 17th overall, well behind the eight that qualified.
On Friday, the hammer throw duo of Mege and Hegerle finished fifth and seventh, respectively.
“I told myself before coming in that the goal was to be an All-American -- so top eight -- and I would be happy with fifth and super happy with top three,” Mege said. “So, top five, I’m happy.”
Mead, racing for the last time in his five-year Gophers career, placed fourth in the 5,000 meters.
“It hasn’t hit me yet that this is my last collegiate race,” Mead said. “I think we ended on a good note. ... It’s hard to put into words, my career here.”
The men’s team finished with 11 team points. The NCAA championships end Saturday.
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