Gopher Men's Indoor Track and Field takes 5th place in last championship meet

The University of Minnesota indoor track and field fieldhouse was recently renovated, and a brand new outdoor stadium was built in 2018, but now both will have far fewer occupants.

2021 marks the end of competition for the University of Minnesota men’s indoor track and field, gymnastics and tennis teams. They were eliminated amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before the changes go into effect, on Saturday the men’s indoor track team took fifth place at this year’s Big Ten Indoor Track & Field championship meet.

Distance runner Owen Hoeft won a gold medal in his event, the mile run.

"At a lean, at the last minute, it came down to the last two meters of the race," coach Steve Plasencia said.

But the feeling of victory was bittersweet.

"This being our last indoor championships just sucks," Hoeft explained.

"It was a painful feeling," Plasencia said. "Definitely a painful feeling."

The decision to eliminate the teams was made to save money and keep Title IX compliance.

"This is a moment of change," Plasencia said. "Minnesota has supported track for over 100 years and they were the last ones to get a chance to run in that championship."

Plasencia says the team doesn’t talk about that much.

"I don’t think it’s one of those things where you have to say anything," Plasencia said. "I think it’s grown in the hearts of every one of the guys."

At first, both indoor and outdoor men’s teams were on the cutting board, back in Sept. 2020; then people in the community took action.

"It was alumni, current athletes, coaches, parents - a little bit of everyone just kind of banding together," Hoeft explained. "Getting the word out and talking to the regents who were ultimately going to make the decision."

"There were alumni that came forward, and there was pledges that were made," Plasencia added. "I’ve been told it was around a couple million [dollars]."

Regents eventually voted 7 to 5 in favor of an amended proposal that keeps the outdoor men’s team.

"I was very grateful that the outdoor track season came back to us," Plasencia said. "We’re going to have an outdoor track team, and we’re going to find a way to have a good outdoor track team. Is it an obstacle? Yes. Is it insurmountable? No."

Still, the indoor team felt shorthanded at the 2021 Big Ten meet. Teams are allowed 32 athletes at the competition, but Minnesota only traveled with 23, in part, because some competitors have transferred out of the program.