By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Writer
Published May 13, 2012
Finishing in ninth place would normally be a good reason for Michigan men’s track and field coach Fred LaPlante to be worried.
Instead, he has reason to relax.
The Wolverines finished with 50 points in the Big Ten Outdoor Championship, well behind champion Wisconsin – who had 121 – but had two first-place finishers in junior pole-vaulter Jack Greenlee and senior distance runner Craig Forys.
“Obviously you’d always like to be higher, but this is one of the best-contested Big Ten meets in history,” LaPlante said. “There were phenomenal performances, and we were a part of that.”
The meet was highlighted by senior Craig Forys, though, who ran the fastest time in the nation this year in the 3000-meter steeplechase. He won in a time of 8:28, which also set a Big Ten meet record and met the automatic “A” standard for the U.S. Olympic trials later this year.
“I couldn’t wrap my head around whether I should be more excited about winning the race or setting the meet record, or qualifying for the trials,” Forys said. “So it was kind of hard to pinpoint where my happiness should be.”
Forys came back and captured third in the 5000-meter run on the final day, after finishing second in the Indoor Championship this year. The key factor in his success has been his health and consistent training for the past two years, allowing him to stay focused on improving without distractions.
But for Forys, years of experience taught him to take advantage of the moment.
“I was still buzzing off the steeplechase, so it was easy to get excited for the (5000-meter race),” Forys said.
Greenlee highlighted day one of the weekend with a height of 5.26-meters (17-feet, 3-inches) on his first vault, beating out two other competitors who needed multiple tries to clear the height.
Despite failing to clear the following height (17-feet, 7-inches), he was still pleased with his improved performance after he finished fourth in the Big Ten Indoor Championships in February.
“It feels great,” Greenlee said. “It hasn’t quite sunk in yet, but I’ve done all I can do to help the team.
“I’ve been working on a lot of technical stuff, but have been really fortunate with our assistant pole-vaulting coach (Shean Conlon). We’ve done work with my run and take-off, and its still a work in progress, but the better that gets the better the vault gets.”
Redshirt sophomore Ethan Dennis also shined on Friday, finishing runner-up in the hammer throw, with his toss of 59.65-meters (195-feet, 8-inches).
The Wolverines also had standout performances from sophomore Ali Aratsu, who finished second in the 400-meter hurdles with a time of 49.3 – the third fastest in the country this year – and the 4x400-meter relay team of Aratsu, freshman Phillip Washington, and seniors Nick Neuman and Matt Campbell, who ran their fastest time.
LaPlante said he was disappointed in his team’s occasional setbacks, like a failed handoff in the 4x100 meter relay or freshman Herman Washington tripping in the 110-meter hurdles.
Regardless, the “role-players” got a taste of the spotlight and watched fellow teammates success over the weekend, which LaPlante said he hopes will stick in their minds.
“It was a very encouraging performance for us,” LaPlante said. “Our team sees our guys have some really big performances and I think that’s going to give everybody a boost. We’re pretty close to being an upper-division team in the conference and we’re going in the right direction.”
Michigan travels to the NCAA East Regional for those individuals that qualified, where they will look to qualify for the NCAA National meet.