Wolverines finish second in Big Ten by smallest of margins

Daily Sports Writer
Published May 17, 2009

Michigan had never been so close to victory and not reaped the benefits.

The Wolverines came within only a quarter of a point from earning their eighth Big Ten outdoor title in program history on Sunday at the Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.

The loss was by the smallest margin in the history of the Big Ten Championships and, unfortunately for the Wolverines, they were on the losing end.

Led by seniors Geena Gall and Tiffany Ofili, Michigan scored 102.75 points on the last day of competition to place second (138.75) behind Penn State (139).

Last season, neither Gall nor Ofili captured a Big Ten title but went on to earn an NCAA championship. Coming into the Championships in Columbus, they knew they wanted to change that.

Gall avenged last season's loss by crossing the finish line first in the 800-meter run (2:04.06) and beating conference foe Heather Dorniden of Minnesota, who earned top honors in the event last year. Gall also finished first in the 1,500-meter run (4:15.09), cementing Michigan's dominance in the event over the last six years.

On the second day of competition, Ofili registered an event title outside her usual track schedule in the long jump. Ofili also recorded her third Big Ten title in the 100-meter hurdles (13.05), setting a new stadium record in the process.

Along with her teammates — redshirt junior Shana Vinson, junior Alisha Cole and senior Casey Taylor — Ofili led the 4x100-meter relay with a strong start right off the blocks. In the last leg of the relay, Taylor was able to hold on for the victory (45.53), edging future winner, Penn State, by nine hundredths of a second.

The 4x400-meter relay provided more of the same drama. Two years ago at the Big Ten Championships, Michigan had an opportunity to capture the title outright, but in the meet's last event, the high jump, then-sophomore Bettie Wade needed to place first to win Big Ten bragging rights for the Wolverines. She finished second in the event, causing Michigan and Illinois to tie for the championship.

Sunday, it was no different. The championship would be determined in the last event, the 4x400-meter relay. Heading into the event, Michigan held a slight lead of three-quarters of a point over Penn State. They just needed to beat Penn State in the relay to secure the Big Ten hardware. The team of Vinson, sophomore Jennifer Neville, senior Amber Hay and Gall did its best to hang with the Nittany Lions.

It came down to the final leg, where Gall had to make up some ground on the Penn State relay team. But Penn State's lead became too great to overcome as Gall ran out of gas. The Nittany Lions placed third (3:38.84) just ahead of the Wolverines who crossed the finish line fourth (3:40.45).

"It was the closest finish that I have ever had in my coaching experience," Michigan coach James Henry said through the Athletic Department. "I feel for the girls because it was a successful meet. Sometimes you can have success and not win."