Eight Wolverines qualify for NCAA Outdoor Championships

Sunday, May 27, 2018 - 4:41pm

Fifth-year senior Sarah Zieve made an improbable comeback to qualify for the NCAA Championships in the 3000-meter steeplechase

Fifth-year senior Sarah Zieve made an improbable comeback to qualify for the NCAA Championships in the 3000-meter steeplechase Buy this photo
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Two hundred meters from elimination, Sarah Zieve wasn’t about to go quietly.

The top three finishers in her 3000-meter steeplechase heat at the NCAA East Preliminary in Tampa, Fla. would qualify to the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Ore. Zieve sat in seventh, her shoe untied and her season on the brink of elimination. 

Nevertheless, she began a desperate sprint and didn’t stop until she crossed the finish line — placing in third by .13 seconds with a time of 10:07.58.

“Definitely as amazing as a comeback as I’ve ever seen,” said Michigan women’s distance coach Mike McGuire. “ … Within the last lap, it was like the barriers weren’t even there the way she was hurdling.”

While her race wasn’t nearly as drama-filled, senior Claire Borchers — the Big Ten champion in the event — also qualified for nationals in the steeplechase. She stayed with the lead pack the entire time and finished her heat with a time of 9:58.57, good enough for the sixth-best time overall.

Joining them in Eugene will be fifth-year senior Haley Meier who had never qualified for nationals in the 1500-meter despite a close call last year. Refusing to drop lower than fifth in her heat — where the top five automatically qualify — Meier left nothing to chance as she stayed in the upper echelon of her race through its entirety. She finished fourth with a time of 4:15.47 and extended the Wolverines’ seven-year streak of qualifying runners to the NCAA Championships in the event.

“She did a great job of positioning herself,” McGuire said. “(She) had a pulse on where she was at, where she needed to be.”

***

The rain came in droves, horizontal and unrelenting.

It’s hard to compete in the high jump in the rain. It gives the ground less traction and messes with the normal aerodynamics of the event, forcing jumpers to alter their speed and entry.

Watching redshirt sophomore Brandon Piwinski compete, you wouldn’t be able to tell.

Piwinski took only one attempt to clear each of his first two heights — 2.06 and 2.11 meters. Though he failed to reach his next height of 2.16 meters, so did all but four other competitors in the preliminary. With 12 spots in the NCAA Championships and number of previous attempts serving as a tiebreaker, Piwinski easily made the cut — the Michigan men's track and field team’s first to qualify in the event since 1994.

“Brandon jumped and he made his two attempts in basically a downpour,” said Michigan coach Jerry Clayton. “ … Our people were — really handled themselves quite well with making those adjustments.”

***

Grant Cartwright had one last shot at keeping his career alive.

After failing to qualify for nationals in the hammer throw on Thursday, the senior had only the shot put left, but his first two throws weren’t going to cut it.

He stepped into the ring, spun and threw. This time, it didn’t end in disappointment.

His final attempt measured 19.53 meters — a personal best that rocketed him into seventh place, good enough to punch his ticket to Eugene.

Meanwhile, redshirt sophomore Andrew Liskowitz unleashed a 19.27-meter throw on his first attempt — one he knew would likely qualify him. But he didn’t stop there, improving on each subsequent attempt. His final throw of 19.92 meters garnered third place overall and another nationals berth for the Wolverines.

“It only took a good first-round throw, (they) get into a rhythm,” Clayton said. “ … Credit to them for staying focused.”

Joining Piwinski, Cartwright and Liskowitz in Eugene will be junior Taylor McLauglin in the 400-meter hurdles — his third consecutive year qualifying — and fifth-year senior Ben Flanagan in the 10,000-meter. Both were Big Ten champions in their respective events.

Perhaps more noticeable, though, was one athlete who didn’t make it.

Heralded all season as an integral part of Michigan’s “Meat Factory” throwing contingent, redshirt junior Joe Ellis holds the school record in the hammer throw and missed the Big Ten Outdoor Championships record by centimeters. But in the NCAA preliminaries, it doesn’t matter what records you hold. Three throws determine the course of your season.

And for Ellis, those three throws weren’t enough. Two fouls in his three attempts eliminated his margin of error, and his one fair heave landed short. He placed just 15th, ending his season.

“This meet’s a tough meet,” Clayton said. “(He) kind of lost his rhythm after the first throw and wasn’t — normally, he’s been able to readjust and come through and this time it just didn’t work.

“ … He’s had a great season, he’s competed really well for us at the conference level, and you can’t take that away.”