Roman Augustoviz spends Minnesota's winters covering college hockey, specifically the Gophers, and other University of Minnesota sports. During the summer, he writes about the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, with a dose of U sports sprinkled in. Follow him on Twitter @RomanStrib.
The Gophers went to the Citrus Classic in Orlando to play five softball games. They arrived ranked No. 11 in one major poll, No. 13 in another.
And the tournament started well for them on Friday. Sophomore righthander Sara Groenewegen pitched a one-hitter and struck out 14, tying her career high, as the Gophers beat a strong Mississippi State team 5-0 in the first game.
That win gave Minnesota a 14-1 record -- matching last year's start, which was the best in program history.
Then the Gophers hit a wall, or so it seems, losing three games in a row in different ways.
In their second game, the Gophers lost to James Madison 8-2. Freshman Kylie Stober started for Minnesota and got pounded. She gave up six hits, two walks and four runs, all earned in 1-1/3 innings. Junior Nikki Anderson relieved her and, in 4-2/3 innings, was also pretty hittable. She allowed 12 hits, a walked one, hit a batter, and gave up four runs, two earned.
With the win, James Madison improved to 6-4.
After two games were rained out on Saturday, the Gophers played Fordham on Sunday morning. Anderson started and it was bad. The first eight hitters got on base before Anderson was relieved without getting an out.
It was 9-0 by the time the inning ending. Final score: Fordham 10, Gophers 5. There was one positive from that game. Stober pitched six innings in relief and gave up one run, unearned.
With the win, Fordham, which had 13 hits, five for extra bases, improved to 9-7.
On Sunday, Gophers coach Jessica Allister moved her slumping leading hitter, Tyler Walker, who went 0-for-8 on Friday, to eighth in the batting order and moved Erica Meyer to the leadoff spot. It didn't help much. Meyer went 0x3, Walker, one of the team's top hitters for three seasons, was 1x4.
Alabama Birmingham beat the Gophers and Groenewegen 1-0 in the final game in Florida. Groenewegn gave up only three hits, but the Chargers scored an unearned run in the sixth on a double.
Winning pitcher Cara Gooden was only the third pitcher to shut out the Gophers since the start of the 2014 season.
Meyer and Walker in their new spots in the other were each 0x3. Danielle Parlich was 2x3 and three other players had one hit, all singles. So not much offense.
With the loss, Groenewegen is 8-2 this season, 22-5 in her career.
Next the Gophers will play in the Louisville Slugger Classic, which must have had trouble getting teams because the U will face Stanford, the host team, three times. Once every day, starting Friday. The Gophers will also have a second game on Saturday, versus Santa Clara.
The Cardinal is 12-10, and one of the losses was to Northwestern 12-7. Santa Clara is 5-14.
The Gophers will need to get their bats going, especially Walker's, and find a second reliable starter behind Groenewegen. Walker was first team All-Big Ten last season and hit 382. She's hitting .267 this season.
Sophomore Luca Wieland is in the Gophers' record books now.
Not only did he win a title in the Big Ten Indoor Championships on Friday and Saturday. He set the school record in the seven-event heptathlon with a score of 5,787 points.
The previous record of 5,769 was set on March 1, 1998 by Benjamin Jensen. That's 17 years ago.
"Obviously, we had two remarkable performances from Luca and Mitch," Gophers track and field director Steve Plasencia said.
Mitch Heschel won the 600-meter run. Those 20 points from those two firsts helped Minnesota place third, up from sixth place a year ago.
This article dwells on Wieland because he seems to have come out of nowhere to set a program record.
His bio says his home is Berlin and he went to the Gym Rotenbuhl Saarbruken. For career highlights, it lists two. Won the long jump (23-9 1/2) in Northwest Open and won the 60-meter hurdles (8.26) seconds in a dual meet with Wisconsin. That's all.
Outdoors last spring, he was 13th in the decathlon at the Drake Relay on April 24 with a total of 6.120. Not eye-catching.
Nor was his 11th in the 2014 Big Ten Indoor Championships with 4,918 points. But, a year later, in a field of 15 this past weekend, he blew that total away. Here's how:
First in 60 hurdles, 8.23 seconds, 925 points -- most in any event. ... He was 11th in 8.75 as a freshman, so about half a second drop..
First in shot put, 46-4 1/2, 755 points. ... Last year he was 12th in 11.86 meters, that's just under 39 feet, so a gain of more than 6 feet.
Second in high jump, 6-9 3/4, 878 points. ... Last year he was 14th in 1.88 meters, that's about 6-2. Huge improvement. Moved up the most spots in this event, 12.
Fourth in 60, 7.08, 854 points. ...Last year he was 11th in 8.75. Another huge drop, more than 1.5 seconds in a short race.
Fourth in long jump, 22-11, 659 points. ... Last year he was sixth in 6.93 meters, about 22-9. Slightly better.
Fifth in pole vault 15-1, 790 points. ... Last year he was sixth in 4.50 meters, about 14-9. Slightly better. Moved up the fewest spots in this event, one.
Eighth in 1,000, 2:48.99, 776 points. ... He was 15th in 3:30.43. Big drop of more than 40 seconds.
So in all seven events, he was better than in 2014. In several, dramatically so.
The 2015 heptatlon came down to three athletes. Wieland, sophomore Tim Erhhardt of Michigan State and junior Stephen Keller of Indiana.
Ehrhardt finished second with 5,741 points -- only 46 behind Wieland, Keller was third with 5,706. The fourth place heptathlete was way back of those three, at 5,542.
John Simons and Zach Siegmeier carried the Gophers to a sixth place finish in the Big Ten men's indoor track and field championships a year ago.
Simons won the mile and finished second in the 3,000. Siegmeier won the pole vault. Both were seniors.
So, too, was Jon Lehman who placed second in the weight throw.
The Gophers will be back in Geneva, Ohio, for the conference indoor meet on Friday and Saturday. And it's hard to see how they can make up for the points they lost.
They don't have anyone seeded first in any of the individual events and only one second seed. Of course, there could be surprises. Someone could have a great day.
Here's a look at some Gophers to watch:
Sophomore Mitch Hechsel is the second second seed in the 600. His time is 1:17.57. And right behind him is teammate Nate Roese, the third seed with a time of 1:17.68. Roese was sixth in this race a year ago. The top seed is Penn State's Brannon Kidder (1:16.98).
Rashawn Fountain, another Gopher, is the fifth seeed (1:18.07). This could be the Gophers' best event.
In the mile, senior Blayne Dulian is the top seed in the third heet and the third seed overall with a time of 4:03.28. He is about a second slower than a runner from Illinois and one from Penn State.
Senior Justin Barber is the fifth seed in the weight throw whle junior Luke Johnson is the fifth in the shop put.
Beyond those four, the highest have a handful of athletes seeded fifth through eight.
The 60-yard dash could be interesting. Berkley Edwards, a Gophers running back and former prep spring champion in Michigan, is entered. But he has the slowest seed time. Freshman Brad Neumann has the best, at 6.81, but that's only eighth. Neumann is the seventh seed in the 200.
Edwards' seed time if 6.92. In between them is Gemechu Godi at 6.87. Improving just a little in that race, can move a runner way up.
Both Neumann and Edwards are in Heat 1.
Another interesting Gophers is junior Goaner Deng. He was third in the 800 a year ago. He is in the 800 again, but his seed time of 1:51.71 is more than a second behind teammate Bradley Johnson, seeded seventh at 1:50.65.
Junior Adam Zutz is seeded sixth in the 5,000, freshman Ryan Lockard seventh in the high jump, and junior Aaron Bartnik is seeded eighth in the 3,000.
Four individual champions return in track, three in the field events.
Michigan, the four-time defending Big Ten champion, won the first two events on Wednesday in the conference meet.
Already seems like the other nine teams may be battling for second, held for now by Ohio State with 64 points. Michigan is in first with 80.
The Gophers are tied for third with Indiana. Both have 58 points. A year ago, when the Gophers finished fourth, they were in sixth place after Day 1.
But Wednesday, the Maroon and Gold got off to a good start. The team's 200 medley relay, which was seeded last, finished fourth in 1 minute, 25.71 seconds, chopping nearly five seconds off its time.
The swimmer were Daryl Turner, Conner McHugh, PaulFair and Ian Gordon. Turner is the lone returnee from last year's relay which place fifth.
In the 800 freestyle rleay, the Gophers foursome of Michael Nunan, Jakub Maly, Ben Bravence and Logan Redondo finished fifth in 6:25.03. Aside from Nunan, the others all swam on that relay a year ago, when its time (6:26.19) was more than a second slower and it placed sixth.
Thursday evening, there are five finals: 500 freestyle, 200 IM, 50 freestyle, 1-meter diving and 400 medley relay.
The Gophers will have a better idea where they stand this year after those events. They have some threats to place high in several of those events: Maly in the 200 IM, Turner in the 50 freestyle, and Manny Pollard and Matt Barnard in 1-meter diving.
The Gophers are not among the favorites in the Big Ten men's swimming and diving meet, which opens a four-day run on Wednesday in Iowa City.
Michigan is the four-time defending champion and rated No. 5 nationally by the College Swimming Coaches Association of America. Ohio State is No. 8, Indiana No. 9, Wisconsin No. 19, Iowa No. 21 -- then the Gophers at No. 22 -- and Penn St. at No. 24.
But the Gophers are excited, nonetheless. "We gear up for the Big Tens and then, hopefully, the NCAAs as well," said senior CJ Smith, a three-time All-America swimmer.
He was fourth in the 1,650-yard freestyle in the conference meet a year ago and has the Gophers' top times in the 500, 1,000 and 1,650 this season.
The Gophers were fourth in the 2014 conference meet, behind the Wolverines, Indiana and Ohio State. They have won nine Big Ten titles, but none since 2007. They won five the last decade: 2001, '02, '04, '05 and '07.
This season the team was 6-3 in dual meets, 3-1 versus conference opponents.
"As a whole, I think our team is really ready to have a great meet coming up," freshman Conner McHugh said.
Other seniors who could make conference finals this year are Brandon Hatanaka, 10th in the 400 IM last year, and Chris Johnson, 10th in the 200 backstroke.
Junior Manny Pollard is the team's top diver. He was Big Ten diver of the week twice this season. Last year he was third in platform diving in the conference meet, sixth in 1-meter diving and ninth in 3-meter. Classmate Dylan Zoe was seventh in platform.
Sophomore Matt Barnard competed in diving at the NCAAs last seaosn, placing 30th on the 3-meter board and 31st on the 1-meter.
Another junior to watch is Logan Redondo, seventh in the 1,650 freestyle last year.
"Our team is really close," sophomore Ian Gordon said. "In all our swim meets, we've had a lot of energy."
Sophomore Daryl Turner is one of the team's most versatile and talented swimmers. He has the best times in the 50 and 100 freestyle, 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly. He won four events in several meets.
He was on three relays in the 2014 NCAA meet. At Big Tens, he was 10th in the 100 freestyle and swam on three relays that placed high: the 400 freestyle relay which was fourth, the 200 medley relay, fifth, and the 400 medley relay, sixth.
"For myself, I'm most excited about the 100 free because I really want to go under 43 [seconds] and make NCAAs," Turner said. "For the team, I'm just really, really excited about what we can do in the relays. We come in as underdogs, but I think we can really perform."
Another sophomore to watch is Jakub Maly, the Big Ten freshman of the year last season. He's real strong in the 200 and 400 IMs. He was fifth in the 400 IM in the conference meet a year ago, eighth in the 200 IM and 10th in the 200 breaststroke. He is from Vienna, Austria, and has a lot of international experience.
Nick Orf, another sophomore, finished eight in the 200 butterfly.
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