Four Wolverines earn All-America honors at NCAA Indoor Championships

Sunday, March 11, 2018 - 4:03pm

They say running is a solitary sport, but that was never more true for fifth-year senior Haley Meier than it was Friday.

Instead of racing with her entire team there to cheer her on, Meier took her mark for her heat in the mile at the NCAA Indoor Championships with just a small contingency of teammates present, while the rest of the Michigan women’s track and field team watched back in Ann Arbor.

That’s the curse of being one of the best — qualifying for the national championships is not a team effort. It means every race is just you and the track.

“I really mentally prepared for this race, because I knew I was gonna be up against some of the biggest names in my event,” Meier said. “I just tried to listen to what … everyone was telling me, that I belong here, I deserve to be here.”

As her race began, Meier — seeded eighth — stayed with the pack. But then she fell back. Two runners passed her and blocked her view of the leaders. By the time she made her way down the stretch, she realized that the gap was too large to overcome. She finished fifth in the heat, one spot out of qualifying. Overall, she finished 12th, enough to earn Second Team All-America honors.

And that’s the thing about the NCAA Championships. Finishing in the back of the pack can feel disappointing, but it’s simultaneously a sign that you’re among the best of the best.

“I’m disappointed that I didn’t make it to the final, and I do believe that I should’ve made it there,” Meier said. “ … (But) I’m just gonna let myself be happy because this is my first opportunity to run here by myself in an open event, and I got All-American second team and that’s a pretty big accomplishment.”

Others found themselves in similar positions.

Senior Claire Kieffer-Wright took all three attempts to clear her first height of 1.76 m in the high jump and failed to make her next. Yet, she still finished tied for 15th in the country and added a Second Team All-America nod to her All-America honorable mention in volleyball.

Redshirt junior Aaron Howell had an up-and-down pentathlon, placing fourth in the shot put and 11th in the high jump, but just 13th in the long jump and 800-meter and 15th in the 60-meter hurdles to finish 14th overall. Her performance, too, earned her Second Team All-America honors.

Fifth-year senior Gina Sereno struggled in the 3000-meter. She tripped and fell at the beginning of the race and eventually was lapped by the leaders, finishing 15th with a time of 9:39.81. But 15th at the NCAA Championships is still 15th in the whole nation.

For all four competitors, it was their first time competing at nationals as individuals, an especially big moment for Kieffer-Wright, Meier and Sereno — all in their final year of eligibility.

“That’s always a goal to make it whenever,” said Michigan coach James Henry. “But if you … finally get there your senior year, it makes it that much more special.”

And that’s the bittersweet nature of it all. Making it to the NCAA Championships and earning All-America honors, but at the same time knowing you didn’t place as well as you wanted. Finally making the big dance —what you’ve worked for all your college career — but knowing you won’t have a chance to come back and do better. Reaching that goal but without the rest of your team to share it with you.

It comes with the territory of being one of the best in the country.