The Gophers men’s and women’s track and field teams have enjoyed a highlight-filled outdoor season.
The highlights started in March at the Baldy Castillo Invitational in Tempe, Ariz., when Sean Donnelly made his Gophers outdoor debut with a school-record hammer throw.
Several school records and a conference co-championship by the women’s team followed.
Jess Lehman defended her title as the Big Ten heptathlon champion, Agnes Esser set a school record in the discus and Lindsey Thorpe set a school record in the hammer. Last month the Gophers tied (with Michigan) for the conference title. It was the second outdoor conference title in program history (first since 2006) for the Gophers.
Fourteen Gophers athletes (six men and eight women) will try to add to the noteworthy season at the NCAA Track and Field Championships, which run Wednesday through Saturday in Eugene, Ore.
The Gophers’ eight qualifiers in the women’s meet are the most for the program since 2008. The Gophers’ six qualifiers in the men’s meet are two more than last year.
“The body of work that we had this year from indoor and outdoor was phenomenal. It’s one of the best statistical years ever in terms of top-10 performances and school records,” said Gophers women’s coach Matt Bingle, who was named the NCAA Midwest Coach of the Year earlier this week. “We’ve had a great year. I love this team. They fight for each other.”
Lehman, who was fifth in the heptathlon at last year’s NCAA meet with a score of 5,965, has the seventh-best qualifying mark (5,917). But Lehman, who holds the school record and conference-meet record of 6,017, is a question mark going into the event, which will be held Friday and Saturday.
“She had an unfortunate accident in the weight room [on Monday],” said Bingle. “She’s pretty sore. We’ll know more in a day. But she’s a determined young lady. She’s worked hard. It would be great if she can end her career on a high note.”
Esser, a sophomore who qualified with a school-record throw of 190-0, has the fourth-best qualifying mark in the discus. Nicolle Murphy, a junior who was sixth in the javelin at last year’s meet, has the 11th-best qualifying mark.
Thorpe, a senior, has the ninth-best qualifying mark in the hammer, qualifying with a school-record throw of 203.6.
Freshman Shanique Wright qualified for the NCAA meet with a career-best triple jump of 42-9. Wright is the first Gophers triple jumper at the NCAA meet since 2003.
Also competing for the Gophers are senior Liz Berkholz in the 10,000 meters, sophomore Heta Tuuri in the high jump and senior Kaila Urick in the 3,000 steeplechase.
For the men’s team, Donnelly, who won four NCAA Division III national titles while competing at Mount Union, is competing in his first NCAA Division I meet.
Donnelly, a senior from Willoughby, Ohio, made his debut for the Gophers on March 18 with a school-record effort in the hammer throw (243-11), the third-best throw in the NCAA this season. His throw of 217-8 at the NCAA West Prelim was the 14th-best qualifying mark for the NCAA meet.
“We hope Sean can finish in the top five,” Gophers men’s coach Steve Plasencia.
The 4x400 relay team of senior Goaner Deng, sophomore Brad Neumann, junior Nate Rose and freshman Jack Wellenstein is the first Gophers relay squad to reach the NCAA championships since 2013. Deng was a member of the 2013 relay team that earned All-American honors.
Junior Mitch Hechsel will run the 800 meters.
The Gophers’ Luca Wieland, who finished fifth in the decathlon at the NCAA Indoor championships earlier this year, won the decathlon at the Big Ten meet to qualify for the NCAA championships. But Wieland, a junior, is not competing at the NCAA meet and has returned home to Germany to prepare for his bid to make its Olympic team.