BY LUKE PASCH
For the Daily
Published January 18, 2010
O-H-I-O chants rang through the Michigan Indoor Track Building on Saturday, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of the scarlet-heavy Big House on Nov. 21, 2009. But, even in a hostile environment, there was a general sense of calm among Wolverines fans, players and coaches.
Despite men's track and field's disappointing loss to Ohio State in "The Dual" this weekend showcased the potential of many young Wolverine athletes.
Aside from such performances as junior Carl Buchanon's win in the 60-meter hurdles, the 24 freshmen on Michigan's 52-man roster, easily the youngest team in the Big Ten, had solid contributions from their young talent. And they competed against a Buckeye squad that Michigan coach Fred LaPlante dubbed Ohio State's most well rounded and experienced team in 25 years.
“We probably have as much talent,” LaPlante said. “We’ve just got a lot of young guys.”
Fortunately for Michigan, these "young guys" showed promise. Especially freshman Denard Robinson, also a football player, who was the only freshman to capture first place in an event. Robinson highlighted a potentially bright future in Michigan track and field.
Three freshmen football imports — Robinson, Joe Reynolds and Je’Ron Stokes — bring a certain buzz to the team that LaPlante uses to his advantage. As the 1500 fans in attendance could attest, Robinson's victory by a tenth of a second over Ohio State's Matthew Terrell in the 60-meter dash provided one of the few sparks that roused the team on Saturday.
“The hard thing is that you can’t coach experience,” LaPlante said. “But he’s very exciting, and I think everybody here likes watching that.”
A transition from a 2009 team with twenty seniors to a 2010 team with thirty underclassmen will create a challenge for the track program.
In an effort to ease the transition, LaPlante brought in a couple familiar faces during the offseason to work with his young guys, adding assistant coaches Adam Harris and Nick Willis — both former Big Ten champions — to the team's personnel. LaPlante hopes that the addition of the young coaches, neither of whom graduated more than five years ago, could relate their experience to the young runners on the track.
And as much as Robinson and the freshmen want to help the team win now, they understand that there is a learning process involved.
“Today’s performance doesn’t mean I’m not still learning from the other guys,” Robinson said. “This is my first time running indoor, and I’m picking up a lot of stuff from Adam (Harris) and Nick (Willis).”
The young Wolverines have nearly three months to prepare for their trip to Columbus for part two of “The Dual," for which LaPlante plans to bring a more battle-tested Michigan team.
“There were a few events where they just overwhelmed us,” said LaPlante. “But it’s not like this doesn’t happen. Our guys will rebound from this.”