The Michigan men’s track and field team hasn’t had the best season in its 103-year history, by any account.
But it didn’t come without its bright spots. Redshirt sophomore Mason Ferlic made sure of that.
Ferlic capped off the season with a fourth-place finish in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, earning first-team All-American honors and leading the team to tie for 44th place with his five points.
Ferlic’s 2013 season ended with a second-team All-American finish but also a bit of unfinished business. The first-year steeplechase athlete was the first runner left out of the finals, finishing 13th.
So he came back a year later smarter and more experienced, knowing that he didn’t have to be faster — just fast enough to qualify.
“The strategy for a prelim is to try to qualify as smoothly as possible without any drama,” Ferlic said. “I think I executed as well as I wanted to. You’re not trying to win a prelim, you’re just trying to do it as smoothly as possible with as little mental effort as physical effort as possible — save it for the final.”
In fact, Ferlic finished more than two seconds slower in his prelim this year but third in the second heat, with plenty of room to spare to qualify for the finals.
In the finals, with some energy saved up, he surged from near the back of the pack at the beginning to fifth on the third lap to fourth at the finish.
Now, just more than a year after competing in the steeplechase for the first time, he finds himself one of the elite competitors in the race across the country. He was the top sophomore finisher.
“Coming back this year, having that experience, having been to the venue before, I came in highly ranked,” Ferlic said. “Guys will be intimidated by me now. That felt good. I had a lot more confidence this year, and I had a lot more fun.”
Eastern Kentucky junior Ole Hesselbjerg just beat out Ferlic at the finish. UTEP junior Anthony Rotich and Arkansas junior Stanley Kebenei finished first and second, respectively, fairly easily.
“I was hoping to close on (Hesselbjerg) on the last lap, but he had a good kick home, so I couldn’t quite get him,” Ferlic said. “It was almost an uneventful final, in my opinion. Things got out hard, the two guys got out front and it was a good race from the gun. There wasn’t really much jostling or drama.”
Though Ferlic hoped to pass Hesselbjerg and finish in third, coach Jerry Clayton was optimistic about the future for the All-American.
“As he progresses, his goal has got to be to try to challenge to win a national title,” he said. “If he runs fast enough, he’ll have an opportunity that’s post-collegiate. But those things will be determined here in the next two years on how he focuses in.”
The Wolverines took two more athletes to Eugene, Oregon for the championships — redshirt sophomore Derek Sievers and redshirt junior Morsi Rayyan.
Sievers threw a personal record at the Big Ten Championships to finish seventh and shattered that mark by almost two feet at the East Region Preliminaries to qualify for the NCAA Championships.
He fell short of his personal record by three inches in Eugene, but finished 16th and earned second-team All-American honors to cap a tremendous year of improvement under Clayton.
“What you’re trying to do is keep the rhythm and timing of where he’s at and maintain that,” Clayton said. “Normally, with peaking, you can maintain those for a 4-6 week period.”
Rayyan finished 18th in 30:17.87 in the 10,000-meter run to complete a long championship season. The team finished the same as it did last year, tying for 44th.
NOTE: Clayton announced Monday that he would not retain cross country coach and track and field assistant coach Alex Gibby, who specialized in long distance with the track team.
Gibby’s cross country teams finished second in the Big Ten in 2012 and 2013, but the men’s track team scored just 14 points in distance events at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships, compared to 70 for conference champion Wisconsin.
“I want to continue to emphasize the distances, but we’ve got to get better on the track,” Clayton said. “The distances will always be the marquee event area for Michigan, so we’ve got to get to where we’re continuing to challenge for titles in cross country, but in addition to that, we’ve got to perform at a higher level on the track.”