“A dress rehearsal” was the phrase Michigan women’s track and field coach, James Henry, chose to describe the SPIRE Invitational, held this past weekend at The SPIRE Institute in Geneva, Ohio.
The invitational is held at a state-of-the-art facility, including the nation’s largest track and field center. But it was not only the facility’s prime condition which excited the Wolverines. On Feb. 22, the team will return to this stage for their opening performance: the first day of the Big Ten Indoor Championships.
The Wolverines’ rehearsal proved to be a success, featuring top-10 finishes in 12 different events, including 11 top-five finishes in nine events. A series of first-place finishers highlighted Michigan’s weekend.
The success began on Friday, when redshirt junior Kiley Tobel captured the title in the pole vault with a height of 13 feet, 10 inches. The distance medley relay — comprised of sophomore Shannon Osika, senior Charlotte Cahill, sophomore Brook Handler and redshirt senior Amanda Eccleston — also took first on Friday, finishing with a time of 11:09.39.
Junior Erin Busbee also captured a first-place finish Friday in the pentathlon heat of the long jump, coming in third place in the event.
Success continued on Saturday with first-place finishes by senior captain Rebecca Addison, who clocked in at 2:04.01 in the 800-meter run, and Eccleston, who recorded a 4:37.33 in the 1,600-meter run. Both Addison and Eccleston’s times led the Big Ten in their respective events.
“I think our kids did a very good job in thinking championship,” Henry said.
If the Wolverines’ practice run at the SPIRE Center is any indication, the Wolverines are, indeed, getting ready to take that big championship stage.
Also holding the best time in the Big Ten is freshman Cindy Ofili, who clocked a personal best 8.24 en route to a second-place finish in the 60-meter hurdles. More impressively, Ofili continues to improve, as she has now topped her previous best time in five consecutive competitions.
The invitational gave the Wolverines a chance not only to prepare their own performances, but to scout their competition as well.
Addison’s victory in the 800-meter run came in true championship fashion, as she finished only .16 seconds in front of Illinois’ junior Samantha Murphy.
“She passed me with 100 (meters) to go, and then I got her right at the end, so it felt really good,” Addison said.
Yet, the notion of a dress rehearsal goes both ways. Success in the invitational is an important step towards the Big Ten Championship, but when all is said and done, what matters most is the curtain call on Feb. 22. Addison, personally, will look to repeat her performance when it counts most.
“(Murphy) is from Illinois, so I know there’s a chance that I’ll see her in (the Big Ten Indoor Championships),” Addison said.
Yet, as one of the Wolverines’ tri-captains, the championship was something she focused on with her teammates as well.
“It’s definitely good to do well, but it’s even more exciting that (it was at) the place where (the Big Ten Indoor Championships) is (going) to be,” Addison said.
The Wolverines have two more weeks to continue to improve before the opening day of the Big Ten Indoor Championships. But both coach and captain felt as though the rehearsal was a success.
“They came away with a good impression,” Henry said.
Added Addison: “I’m really glad we came and got a positive experience on that track. We’re really excited to come back.”