Aratsu leads pack of five athletes headed to National Championships

Daily Sports Writer
Published May 27, 2013

In arguably its most crowded meet of the year, the Michigan track and field team had its work cut out for it. Teams as far as Louisiana to Florida came to compete in the NCAA East Preliminaries at Greensboro, N.C. over the weekend.

And when all was said and done, five athletes secured spots to stay alive for one final chance to compete next week at the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore.

“This is a very tough meet, and advancing is even tougher,” said Michigan coach Fred LaPlante. “But after being in the Big Ten, we’re pretty battle-tested, and we showed that. We made a good account of ourselves and Michigan, and I’m proud of all of our performances.”

The highlight for the Wolverine’s came in the 400-meter hurdles, where junior Ali Arastu once again qualified for the national meet. Arastu — who will compete in his third outdoor NCAA championship meet — clocked a time of 51.17 on Friday, good for fourth place. The second-fastest hurdler in school history and reigning All-American will now focus on putting his name in Michigan track lore with an outside shot at a national crown.

“(Arastu’s) got a lot of experience now in the big meets,” LaPlante said. “He’s been to Olympic trials and the national championship twice before, so his emotions were very under control. It wasn’t his best race, but it was a solid race and enough for another chance next week.”

Arastu will be joined by freshman Mason Ferlic in the track events. Ferlic, who qualified in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, ran a 8:41.83 for to automatically qualify for national championship. After competing the 3,000-meter run for much of the year, Ferlic dropped ten seconds from his career-best time to place fourth in just his third-career attempt at the event.

The field portion of Michigan’s team will be represented by junior Ethan Dennis and sophomore Cody Riffle. The school record-holders will compete in the hammer throw and shot put, respectively. Additionally, senior Kurt Reichenbach will compete in the decathlon, which was based off of regular-season scores rather than prelims due to the demanding nature of the event.

The five qualifying for nationals is an improvement upon last year, in which Arastu was joined only by 2012 graduate Craig Forys in the steeplechase and the 4x400 meter relay.

After a disappointing tenth-place finish at the Big Ten championships, the Wolverines had an opportunity to reset in Greensboro. The top 48 athletes from the region in each event all year qualify for the event. But using a system installed in 2009, all previous times are disregarded once the race begins. This leaves the 12 championship spots completely wide-open for any of the 48 participants to take in an all-or-nothing battle, a concept Coach LaPlante and his team embrace.

“Some of our guys had a disappointing Big Ten meet,” LaPlante said. “But every one of them was totally reset by Monday. They put Big Tens in their rearview mirror and were focused on preparing for this meet and looking to do well, and they did that.”

The five athletes advancing to the national stage won’t turn many heads in the track world, but that doesn’t bother coach LaPlante. With a hurdler, a distance runner, a shot-putter, a thrower and—the most balanced event of all—a decathlete, the Wolverines will be represented across the board on the national stage.

“When you go to championships you always see teams that are all distance-oriented or sprint-oriented, or all focused in a few events,” Coach Laplante said. “We’ve got a little bit of everything heading in, and we’ll have all of our coaches around to help us do what we need to do.”

While the diversity of the remaining five pleases Coach LaPlante, it may present a problem in this week’s practice. Traditionally, competition is the ultimate motivator in practice; sprinters race each other, distance runners push each other through the long workouts, and field competitors are always looking to be that day’s champion. With no one left to compete against, LaPlante is looking for self-motivation within his team.

“All year you’ve been sweating it out with your teammates and your buddies, and now those guys are gone and it’s just you and the coach,” LaPlante said. “It’s an adjustment to make, but I think these guys can handle it.”