By Michael Kessler, Daily Sports Writer
Published June 9, 2013
Finishing 47th might not seem like an accomplishment.
But for the Michigan women’s track and field team, the finish in the NCAA Outdoor Championships at the University of Oregon’s historic Hayward Field was already a better result than last year.
The Wolverines' four runners are an improvement from last year, when the team sent three competitors to the event and scored no points.
With two returning athletes competing, Michigan was in good position to put points on the board, but it was a newcomer to the national stage who ultimately scored those points. Fifth-year senior Amanda Eccleston, a transfer from NCAA Division II program Hillsdale College, took fifth in the 1,500-meter run and earned the team its only four points.
In what has become nearly a broken record now, Eccleston once again set a personal-best mark in her signature race, this time finishing in 4:14.56. Her top-five finish did not come without difficulty, however.
Eccleston almost missed qualifying for the finals, having to grind her way into the semifinals by securing the 12th and final at-large spot before she struggled early on in the final race.
“I was pretty much in last right off the bat, so it made a little bit of the race kind of hard to work my way up through,” Eccleston said. “But I was able to run pretty well on the inside, and I was able to move up a bit throughout, and on the final straightaway I went from seventh or eighth to fifth.”
Eccleston’s fifth-place finish marked an impressive end to what has been a very successful collegiate career. After dominating at the Division II level for four years, including a national championship last year in the 1,500-meter run, Eccleston transferred to Michigan for her final year of eligibility. She proved her national championship last year was no fluke, and was rewarded with All-American first team honors for her fifth-place performance.
“It was just a really great opportunity to come out and represent Michigan, and a great way to finish out my college career,” she said.
Eccleston was joined on the track by teammate and co-captain senior Rebecca Addison, who concluded her four-year collegiate career at Michigan in the 1,500 meter run with a 23rd-place finish in the semifinals. Though her time did not qualify her for the finals, she earned an All-American honorable mention for her showing.
On the field, two athletes made return appearances to the NCAA Outdoor Championships, and though neither placed scoring marks, their performances were strong nonetheless.
Redshirt junior Kiley Tobel, the only non-graduating member of the four competing Wolverines, set a new school record and personal best in the pole vault, finishing 10th for the second consecutive year with a mark of 4.25 meters.
“I was really excited to end my season on such a high note,” Tobel said. “Last year at the national meet I didn’t have my best performance at that meet, so to come out this year and be able to do my very best at the national meet was something I really wanted to accomplish this year.”
Rounding out the quartet was senior Erin Pendleton, who finished 18th in the discus by improving on each of her three throws to record a final toss of 49.96 meters. The school record-holder in the discus throw, Pendleton was making her third-career appearance in the NCAA Championships after missing out last year. She earned an All-American honorable mention as she closed out her collegiate career.
“I thought overall all of the kids performed to their highest potential,” said Michigan coach James Henry. “I was really happy with the girls that did qualify and we had a few that came very close. I was really happy with the performances we had this week in Eugene – they were all very competitive.”
The Wolverines will take a small yet notable hit from to their roster in the offseason, as three of the four athletes competing at the Outdoor Championships will be graduating.
For Eccleston, Addison, Tobel and Pendleton, the opportunity to compete at one of the most historic tracks in the country was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and an exciting way to end their careers.
“It’s really exciting, because Hayward Field is probably the most famous track in the U.S., and it’s just full of people who really enjoy track and love watching races and really get excited for it,” Eccleston said. “So it was a great experience to run here where people care so much about our sport.”
Added Tobel: “It’s a huge track town here and there were so many fans. It was a really cool experience, definitely the most fun I’ve had competing at an event before. The energy was great, and it was the perfect place to set the school record.”
Though Michigan improved on their performance at the Outdoor Championships from last year, when it scored no points, the team still has work to do to achieve the level of success they are striving for.
“We’re getting better, but we’re not there yet, meaning we should be qualifying more kids, we should be scoring more points at the national level, but it starts with the Big Ten,” Henry said. “We’ve improved from the previous year in our conference, both indoors and outdoors, and we want to continue to improve, we want to continue to get better.
“It’s going to be my coaching staff and my job to bring the next group of ladies up and hopefully they will be able to represent Michigan and contribute.”