May 16, 2014
WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana - Under cold, wet conditions, Julia Otwell fought to win a bronze medal in a dramatic 10,000-meter run to cap off the opening day of competition for the Michigan State track & field team at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships. After just two scored events at the meet hosted by Purdue University, the MSU women sit in sixth place with six points, while the men are in eighth with three points.
"I thought the people who contested fought, and that's all we can ask them to do," said director of track & field/cross country Walt Drenth. "From my standpoint, this is a good first day. If the team gets the message, then we're going to have a lot of fun this weekend. If they came out here and watched this fight, then they should see what we're here for. It should really galvanize our sense of purpose. If we come out here with the willingness to be engaged, it will be fun."
The Spartans ended the first day strong as redshirt junior Julia Otwell raced to a third-place finish in a grueling 10,000-meter race. In just her second collegiate race in the event, Otwell clocked a personal record time of 34:00.20 to win bronze, the first Big Ten medal of her career. Redshirt junior Melanie Brender finished 17th in the event, recording a time of 35:42.01.
"For me, it was great to see the women fight," said Drenth. "It was great to have the team come out and see both genders fight. I think it really sets a tone for what we're going for over the weekend. To see Julia (Otwell) fight all the way to the finish line in just her second 10K, maybe a minute faster than she's ever run, was just special. I can't say enough about Mel(anie) Brender right now. It really needs mentioning because she lost her mother a month ago. The fact that she was able to get herself back to this point and have a competitive 10,000, it's an emotional event, it's very difficult and mentally draining. With the stuff that she's gone through, it is courage beyond mention. I couldn't be more proud of a human being right now than I am of Mel. It's going to be a message to the team - if she can go through what she's gone through and fight, there's no reason the rest of us can't go out here and have a fight. How it turns out is less relevant than whether we're interested in a fight."
In the men's race, redshirt junior Ben Carruthers led the Spartans with a time of 29:31.09 to finish 11th overall. He was followed by redshirt junior Alex Wilson, who crossed the finish line in 29:36.17 for a 15th-place finish in his first ever race in the event. Rounding out the Spartans was redshirt junior David Madrigal, who finished 19th with a time of 30:56.74.
"With the men not scoring, you don't always score at a meet like this," Drenth said. "This is outstanding. Alex Wilson ran himself to a first-round qualifier. You can't ask for more than that. It was his first time running a 10,000, and to have it be a qualifying mark for the national championship, I can't be aggravated by that. Ben Carruthers came out to run his second 10K and it was a little bit better than his first one. There are no complaints."
Scoring the first points for MSU in the men's hammer throw was redshirt junior Antonio James, who finished seventh with a throw of 60.29m/ 197-9. Earning a spot in the finals, redshirt freshman Vinny Gjokaj hit a personal record of 57.47m/ 188-6 to place eighth overall.
"A.J. (Antonio James) kind of pulled out of the hammer this season for the most part, and for him to come out and score points was outstanding," said Drenth. "Vinny was awesome. He wasn't seeded to advance or score. He did what we talk about a lot. The importance of coming to a meet like this and just being as good as you are, not trying to do more than who you are. He really did that, in fact, he threw a personal best. He didn't try to come out of himself to do something special and it happened. For him to score, I thought that was outstanding. Coach (Blaine) Maag did an awesome job having those guys ready."
Redshirt senior Kurt Schneider kicked off the first day of competition, representing the Spartans in the decathlon competition. Schneider owned the high event, clearing 2.09m/ 6-10¼ as the only competitor left at the height to take first place honors. He finished third in the long jump with a mark of 7.08m/ 23-2¾ and placed fourth overall in the shot put with a throw of 12.72m/ 41-8¾. Crossing the finish line in 51.31, he finished fifth overall in the 400-meter dash. In the first event of the meet, Schneider started out the day placing sixth overall in the 100-meter dash with a time of 11.32. After five events, Schneider is currently in second place with 3,916 points.
"Kurt Schneider was good from the beginning to end of the day, under very difficult circumstances," said Drenth. "Kurt's been tremendous. He's on pace to easily be a national qualifier. This is an outstanding conference and for him to be as good as he's been today under adverse conditions - we're on, we're off, we're delaying, we're going - all those things can be really distracting and I thought Kurt did a marvelous job of not worrying about it."
Competing in her first heptathlon as a Spartan, sophomore Tory Schiller began with a personal-best time of 15.23 in the 100-meter hurdles to place 10th. She went on to turn in an 11th-place mark in the shot put, recording a mark of 9.19m/ 30-2. Schiller crossed the finish line in 27.37 to also place 11th overall in the 200-meter dash. In the high jump, she finished 12th overall as she cleared 1.49m/ 4-10½. After four events, Schiller sits in 11th place overall in the heptathlon with 2,579 points.
The Spartans will be back in action on Saturday morning with the decathlon's 110-meter hurdles scheduled for 11:30 a.m. at the Rankin Track & Field.