The Gophers men’s and women’s track and field teams finished fifth and seventh, respectively, at the Big Ten indoor championships Friday and Saturday in Geneva, Ohio.
While the places may not seem impressive, the team scores show the meet was more competitive than last year.
The men’s team finished second last season by four points to Indiana. This season, the men finished fifth by that same margin to champion Wisconsin. Only 1.5 points separated second and fifth place.
“I’ve never seen a Big Ten meet as close as that was,” head coach Steve Plasencia said.
Minnesota ended with 86 points. Wisconsin tallied 90 while Illinois had 87.50, Penn State had 87 and Nebraska had 86.66. Defending champion Indiana placed sixth with 72 points.
“We didn’t get any individual champions,” Plasencia said, “and to be that close without individual champions, that’s something I wouldn’t have expected.”
Senior Harun Abda was the Gophers’ best finisher on the weekend. He was the defending Big Ten champion in the 400- and 600-meter runs but finished third in the 400 and second in the 600 this year.
Abda said instead of splitting the 400 final into two sets of four, all eight finalists ran together — causing a lot of traffic on the track.
In the 600, Abda ran in the heat before the winner with a personal-record time, so he couldn’t compete head-to-head with the eventual champion.
“This is the closest finish I’ve ever seen, and it just tells you that Big Ten’s not just an easy conference,” Abda said. “I think it’s the best conference in the nation.”
Abda also competed in the 4x400-meter relay with junior Jacob Capek, senior Cameron Boy and freshman Goaner Deng. The relay placed second, and Plasencia said it picked up the team’s energy at the end of the meet.
“I felt like toward late in the afternoon, we kind of sagged a little bit emotionally,” Plasencia said. “The guys who came out on the track after that continued to do a really great job.”
Women show improvement
The Gophers women finished last in the 11-team Big Ten field a year ago with just 11 points.
This year, the Gophers placed seventh with 56 points and were one point away from sixth.
“Obviously, seventh is not where we want to be, and it’s not acceptable,” head coach Matt Bingle said. “But it’s a lot better than last year, and we’re moving in the right direction.”
Bingle said the ultimate goal is to build the team back to its pinnacle when it won three-straight Big Ten indoor championships from 2007-09.
While the Gophers performed better than expected, Bingle said they could have finished even better if they had competed as well Saturday as they did Friday. He said his team made some mistakes in the sprinting events.
Senior Todea-Kay Willis finished sixth in the 60-meter dash while her teammate, senior Kylie Peterson, finished ninth.
“We made a few mistakes and the results show that we did,” Willis said. “We really felt bad afterward because we wanted to come in and execute the way … we practice.”
Willis made up for her subpar performance in the 60 with a second-place finish in the long jump. Willis broke the school record at 6.29 meters.
“That was one of my goals coming into the meet,” Willis said. “It was really that accomplishing feeling. I was really happy.”
Bingle also singled out junior Laura Docherty and sophomore Molly Kayfes as important point scorers for the Gophers.
Docherty finished third in the 3,000-meter run and second in the 5,000-meter run. Kayfes placed sixth in the 3,000 and third in the 5,000.
The Spire Institute hosted the Big Ten indoor championships this weekend, becoming the first non-Big Ten facility to do so.
Willis said the atmosphere was not as bad as she thought it would be, while Bingle deemed it OK.
“It’s a great facility to run fast and have great marks and those types of things,” Bingle said. “But in terms of having that college feel — where it’s a little smaller building and everybody’s on top of each other and the crowd’s loud, those types of things — it’s a whole different ball game.”
Abda said since the facility didn’t have much else around it, the athletes and fans missed out on the real Big Ten experience.
“You kind of miss the fun part of being [at] some school, some campus,” Abda said.
Fewer fans attended Friday’s competition than Saturday. Since the facility is so big, Plasencia said the meet felt hollow at times.