Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Dorniden Begins Quest for Second NCAA Title

Heather Dorniden's quest for a second NCAA title begins today with the first of three rounds of competition in the women's 800 meters at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Sacramento. The 2006 NCAA Indoor champ leads a group of six Gopher women into the championships which runs through Saturday.

Also competing are steeplechaser Emily Brown, pole vaulter Alicia Rue, javelin thrower Ruby Radocaj, and throwers Liz Alabi (hammer/shot) and Liz Podominick (discus/shot).

Dorniden (pictured) opens competition later today in the last of four prelim heats of the 800m. She's matched up against Big Ten rival and fellow sophomore Geena Gall of Michigan in her heat, although the the top three finishers and next four fastest advance to tomorrow's semi-final.

Gopher distance coach Gary Wilson isn't worried about the three-round format's impact on his star athlete.

"I think three rounds helps the elite kids," Wilson hypothesized for DtB via e-mail from Sacramento. "She is one of about six that can handle it with relative ease. I think cross country and more 1500s this year really helped her strength."

After the field is winnowed down to Saturday's final, the six runners with a shot at the title look to be Dorniden, who enters the meet with a 2:02.03, #3 seed, 2006 outdoor champ Rebekah Noble of Oregon (#5 at 2:03.22), 2007 NCAA Indoor titlist Alysia Johnson of California(#2 at 2:01.48), Fatimoh Muhammed of Texas - El Paso (#4 at 2:03.03), Gall (#6 at 2:03.81) and Michigan teammate and #1 seed Katie Erdman who boasts a 2:01.25 mark this year.

"I think Johnson, Erdman and Noble are the three toughest because they all have VERY good speed," Wilson said. "I think Heather has very good speed but can handle a very strong pace. At regionals she went out in 60.7, 1:30.5 and finished in just over 31.5. Last year she had the same pace in the NCAA final but could only finish in just over 33."

Wilson says the plan for Dorniden in the final will be to lead.

"I think she has to take it from the gun," he said. "She is a GREAT strength runner but I also think she has to save one last gear for the last 70 meter dash to the line."

"The number of great young kids right now is amazing," the long-time gopher coach added. "[Dorniden] is one of a half dozen that can win it on any given day. I sure would never bet against her. She is one tough fighter when she gets out there. All of this and very smart and very humble."

"She is a once in a lifetime athlete. We are VERY lucky to have her with us. She makes Matt [Bingle, the Gopher head coach] and me look VERY smart."

NCAA performance lists can be found HERE.

NCAA heat sheets are available HERE.

Also ... Gopher women's throws coach Lynne Anderson was named the U.S. Track & Field/Cross Country Coaches Association NCAA Midwest Region Assistant Throws Coach of the Year. The Big Ten also noticed the veteran throws coach -- she's been with the Gophers for 27 years! -- featuring her in this story article in its “Celebrating 25 Years of Women’s Championships” campaign.

Also Also ... The Star-Tribune has a nice piece today on Gopher jumper Derek Gearman HERE.

Photo courtesy of the U of M.

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