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Aratsu highlights Wolverines’ performance at NCAA Championships

BY ZACH SHAW
Daily Sports Writer
Published June 11, 2013

After spending the last nine months training, eating, competing and living as a team, the Michigan men’s track and field team of over 60 sent five individuals to compete in five separate events in the NCAA Championship meet. But they all had one goal in mind: To put Michigan back on the track and field map.

Once a mainstay at the top of the Big Ten and even National leaderboards, Michigan has failed to place as a team in an NCAA Indoor or Outdoor Championship meet in six tries. The Program that owns 30 Outdoor Big Ten titles sunk to 10th place in the Big Ten outdoor championships just three weeks ago, a low hit only once before in the team’s 101 seasons.

But after competing against the best in the nation, the Wolverines mustered a 44th-place finish behind the fourth place finish of junior Ali Aratsu in the 400-meter hurdles.

Freshman Mason Ferlic kicked off Michigan’s weekend, riding the momentum from May, but didn’t have enough juice to carry into June. After running the 3,000-meter steeplechase for the first time in Toledo, Ohio on May 2, Ferlic found himself a natural to the event. The same distance runner who suffered through a broken foot, mononucleosis and an iron deficiency a few short months ago dropped 10 seconds at regionals to earn a trip to Eugene, Ore.

But at Oregon’s historic Hayward Feild, Ferlic posted a career-best time of 8:47.09 to take 13th. He earned second-team All-American, falling 0.2 seconds short of a spot in the finals in just his fourth time competing in the event.

“You can always tell these great success stories, but they mean a lot more when it’s someone on your team showing that you can do it,” Michigan coach Fred LaPlante told the athletic department.

Junior Cody Riffle took ninth place in the shot put with a distance of 18.62 meters, falling just one spot short of first-team All-American. Already a school record-holder in the event, Riffle will return next year with his eyes set on the first team.

The All-American honorable mention honors continued on Day two when junior Ethan Dennis took 20th in the hammer throw with a distance of 60.97 meters.

Fifth-year senior Kurt Reichenbach concluded his collegiate career with a score of 7,013 in the decathlon to take 21st and also walk home with the similar honor. Leaving it all on the track in an event that already makes one do just that, Reichenbach posted his best scores in the pole vault, javelin and 1,500-meter run, the final three events.

“To get to this meet is a tall order — he broke the school record and had a great performance just to get here,” LaPlante said. “I was really proud of his performance from beginning to end, and really proud of his whole career, especially coming back his fifth year to accomplish what he did."

The hero of the weekend proved to be Arastu. After falling mere hundredths of a second short of first-team All-American last year in a ninth-place effort, Arastu made the trip to Eugene determined to improve.

He didn’t disappoint. After running the fifth-best time in the semifinals, Arastu ran a career-best time of 49.37 to take fourth place. In doing so, he became the top Wolverine finisher in the hurdles since 1997, when Neil Gardner also placed fourth.

“Usually when I run that fast I don't even remember the race, which is a good thing,” Arastu said. “I got out hard, but those guys were still right on my tail. I knew I had a strong finish, and I could just compete the last 100 meters and give everything I had.”

Added LaPlante: “This is the third time he's been here. He was a little more comfortable with his surroundings. I'm not surprised at all by his performance. I think he’s very capable. By doing what he accomplished this year, should really wet his appetite for what he can accomplish next season and beyond."

While 44th place is nothing to celebrate about at one of the nation’s most storied track programs, the weekend was still viewed as a success. In a long season of rebuilding, Arastu, Riffle, Ferlic, Dennis and Reichenbach feel they’ve laid the foundation for years to come.

"It’s a huge accomplishment for me and for Michigan,” Arastu said. “I want to get this program back to another level, and it starts with baby steps. Hopefully, I can show some of the other guys the level we need to be competing at.”

Added LaPlante: “We’ve touched all areas of our team in terms of guys making it to nationals. So now each guy goes back to their event area and that makes the link closer for everybody to really believe they can get to this level.”

After what proved to be his last meet as a coach for Michigan, coach LaPlante leaves behind a young team with several underclassmen ready to explode next year and for years to come.