Gophers Look to End Season on High Note at NCAA Championships
Eleven student-athletes will represent the Minnesota men's track & field team at the 2012 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships beginning Wednesday in Des Moines, Iowa. The competition, which features the best of the best in collegiate track & field, will be hosted by Drake University at Drake Stadium, June 5-6-7-8.
Coming off a strong showing at the NCAA West Preliminary, there's a good chance that Gophers will be competing each day of the four-day event.
Minnesota advanced competitors to the championships in five individual events - decathlon, 800 meters, 1500 meters, 5000 meters and hammer. The Gophers will also be represented in the 4x400-meter relay.
The good news is that two Gophers will be featured in the 800 meters - senior team captain David Pachuta and junior Harun Abda. The bad news is that the Gopher duo was drawn in the same heat. Both Pachuta, the school record-holder in the 800, and Abda were placed into heat 3 of the three-heat draw. With only the top two finishers in each heat, plus the next two fastest overall times, moving on to the final, it will be a challenge for Minnesota to get both athletes and into scoring positions.
Pachuta, seeded eighth, enters the meet with the Gophers' top qualifying time. He ran a school-record time of 1:46.74 to finish second at the 2012 Big Ten Outdoor Championships, and then qualified for the NCAAs with a time of 1:47.78 at the NCAA West Preliminary.
Abda, qualified for the championships with a time of 1:49.17 at the West Preliminary. He ran a season-best 1:47.20 at the Mt. SAC Relays.
The event should offer plenty of interest for Big Ten fans, with the top-four finishes from the conference meet - Casimir Loxsom (Penn St.), Pachuta, Erik Sowinski (Iowa), and Austin Mudd (Wisc.), plus Abda, all qualifying.
The opening heats in the 800 meters are scheduled to take place on Wednesday night at 6:15 p.m., with the final slated to go at 6:10 p.m. on Friday evening.
Junior Nick Huttonis the No. 6 overall seed in the 1500 meters. Hutton earned his spot at the NCAA Championships by posting a time of 3:44.64 at the NCAA West Preliminary. The time equaled his best of the season, but only placed him sixth in his heat. With just the top five in each heat automatically advancing to Des Moines, Hutton had to sweat out the second heat to see if he would move on. Ironically, his time would have won the second heat by nearly a second, and he was easily through to nationals.
Hutton will run in the second of Thursday's two 1500-meter heats. Based on qualifying seeds, the junior has a strong chance to reach the final, as the top-six seeded athletes are paired with seeds 19 through 24. The top five from each heat, plus the next two fastest times will move on.
In addition to Hutton, the second heat will feature Wisconsin's Rob Finnerty, the No. 1 seed, No. 4 seed Patrick McGregor of Texas and No. 5 seed Patrick Casey of Oklahoma. Also in the mix in heat 2 will be indoor mile runner-up Rich Peters of Boston University and Pac-12 champion Lawi Lalang of Arizona.
The semifinal heats in the 1500 meters are scheduled to take place on Thursday night at 6:15 p.m., the final is scheduled for Saturday morning at 11:17 a.m.
Senior Hassan Meadwill take one last bite at the cherry in his collegiate career when he hits the track for the final time as a Gopher student-athlete in Friday's 5000-meter final. But before he can begin concentrating on the 5000 and 10000 meters at the USATF Olympic qualifying meet, there's the small matter of an NCAA Championship on the line.
Mead ran a very tactical race to win his heat at the NCAA West Preliminary and so his No. 15 seed with a time of 14:16.06 is a bit deceiving. He ran a season-best time of 13:51.02 for a runner-up finish at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships and owns a person-best and school record time in the distance of 13:28.45 set in 2009.
A six-time All-American, Mead will face a stacked field Friday night, including Big Ten rivals Mohammed Ahmed from Wisconsin and Ben Hubers of Indiana. Cameron Levins from Southern Utah, along with the Arizona duo of Lalang and Stephen Sambu will also provide plenty of competition.
4x400 Meter Relay
Minnesota's 4x400 relay team qualified in the No. 23 position after combining to clock a time of 3:08.11 at the NCAA West Preliminary and will need a break-through performance to reach the final of this year's stacked field.
The qualifying group, which includes sophomore Jacob Capek, Abda, junior John Holton, junior Kevin Bradley, Pachuta and junior Cameron Boy, has run as fast as 3:06.50 this season at the Big Ten Championships (Bradley-Abda-Pachuta-Holton), but it was Capek-Abda-Holton-Bradley who teamed up in Austin, Texas.
The Gophers' quartet will face Big Ten rivals from Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan and Indiana. The field's top two seed are LSU (3:03.20) and Arkansas (3:03.56).
Mege, the No. 6 seed, is the school record-holder and reigning Big Ten Champion in the event with a throw of 220-1. Recently named an Academic All-District selection, Mege earned his berth in the NCAA Championships with a throw of 215-3 to finish second at the NCAA West Preliminary.
Hegerle is seeded 14th after placing sixth at the West Preliminary with a throw of 208-5.
The duo will face just one other Big Ten representative in Iowa senior Matt Banse. Additionally, the No. 1 overall qualifier, Princeton sophomore Conor McCullough, will not be competing at the NCAA Championships this week, according to news reports, significantly opening up the field.
The trials and final of the hammer get underway on Friday at 2:00 p.m.
A late-season ankle injury may have hampered Jack Szmanda'spreparation for the NCAA Championships, but his spirit and confidence remains as positive as ever. The Gophers' record holder in the decathlon with 7,862 points from his second-place finish at the 2012 Big Ten Championships, Szmanda was one of three Big Ten student-athletes to top the Big Ten meet record in the event last month.
Szmanda, who was unable to compete at the NCAA West Preliminary due to his injury after qualifying in the pole vault, enters then NCAA meet as the No. 6 seed. He is a 2010 Indoor All-American in the heptathlon, but has yet to compete in the decathlon at the national finals.
In addition to Szmanda, the NCAA field also includes Big Ten champion Bjorn Barrefors of Ohio State, the No. 5 seed, and the no. 8 seed Dave Grzesiak from Wisconsin. The trio went 1-2-3 at the Big Ten meet. Also representing the Big Ten will be the No. 12 seed Heath Nickles of Ohio State and the No. 16 seed Japheth Cato from Wisconsin.
The top seed is Big 12 champion Isaac Murphy from Texas. He owns a qualifying score of 8,067 points and will also be joined in the field by ACC champion Gonzalo Barroilhet, the No. 2 seed with a point total of 8,065.
Action in the decathlon gets underway with the first five events on Wednesday at noon. The field will finish up with the final five events beginning at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday.
First-team USTFCCCA All-America honors will be awarded to those student-athletes who earn any portion of a team point at the NCAA Championships, or reach an eight-entrant final.
Second-team All-America honors will be earned by those student-athletes whose final placing in the national meet range from ninth to 16th.
Those who participated at the final site but did not place in the meet's top 16 will be listed as honorable mention All-Americans.