Five ‘battle-tested’ Wolverines make trip to Oregon for NCAA Championships

Daily Sports Writer
Published June 3, 2013

Ferry Field looked lonely.

The track that a few short weeks ago was filled with nearly 60 members of the Michigan men’s track and field team had been emptied down to five.

The five — sophomore Mason Ferlic, juniors Cody Riffle and Ali Arastu, and seniors Ethan Dennis and Kurt Reichenbach — remained on the track, putting the final touches on their work before this week’s NCAA Championship meet in Eugene, Ore.

The quintet is led by Arastu, the only Wolverine with outdoor championship experience. Arastu took ninth in the 400-meter hurdles last year, falling one spot short of All-American honors

“Last year I just barely missed it,” Arastu said. “Which really sucked. So everything I’ve done all year has been with getting All-American in the back of my mind.”

This year, Arastu has kept his emotions in check en route to his third consecutive qualification. With a return to nationals almost inevitable, Arastu made sure to leave some gas in the tank for June.

“When I was a freshman,” Arastu said, “I gave every race everything I had. By the time I got to nationals I would just be fried. I wanted to be there, but I didn’t because I was so tired. This year, I didn’t go as hard as much. I obviously had to get back here, but I wanted to make sure that I’m peaking now instead of a month ago.”

Added Michigan Coach Fred LaPlante: “He’s very talented. On any given day he can beat just about anybody, and he knows that. He’s a big finisher, so if he can start off the race the way he’s capable of doing, he’ll be in very good shape.”

Arastu may be the most experienced of the group, but he’ll have some established and decorated company with him on the flight out to Eugene. Riffle, Dennis and Reichenbach own school records in the Shot Put, Hammer Throw and Decathlon, respectively. Each looks to improve upon those marks on collegiate track’s biggest stage.

“These guys are very battle-tested,” LaPlante said. “Riffle and Dennis have done indoor (national championships) and Reichenbach’s a fifth-year senior and it’s his last meet ever. They’ll be ready.”

The most surprising of all the Wolverines to make it is Ferlic. After breaking his foot and catching mononucleosis in the fall, it looked like Ferlic — who redshirted his freshman year — would spend another season on the sidelines.

At the last minute, Ferlic — a distance-runner and member of the cross-country team — was signed up to run the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the Toledo Invitational, the last regular-season meet of the year.

“There’s a little less depth in the steeplechase,” Ferlic said. “So it was kind of used to boost my confidence. I’m already tall and quick, and it all just clicked. Once the gun went off, I got into a good rhythm. It’s all gone very well since then.”

He ran well enough to earn a spot in the Big Ten Championship and the East Region Preliminaries, where he dropped 10 seconds in his third try in the event to earn a spot among the best in Eugene.

“This is all so fresh to him,” LaPlante said. “He hasn’t had much time to think about it or let it sink in. We’re just going to go step-by-step with him, beginning with the first heat.”

“I don’t think anyone expected me to get this far,” Ferlic said. “I didn’t even expect it. Every race has been a surprise so far, but it still feels right and I still feel capable. I lost a ton of time, but I feel like I have more to give.”

It won’t matter that Ferry Field was lonely, though. At this point in the season, Michigan doesn’t need external motivation or competition to help its training; it needs something you can't teach.

“To get this far, you have to be pretty internally motivated already,” LaPlante said. “Right now, they still want to work and they feel they’ve got a lot left to do. I’m sure once that plane takes off, the race can’t come soon enough for them.”