James Henry likes to say that it’s not the big fish that wins the meet, it’s all the little fish. Rather, the Michigan women’s track and field coach preaches that it’s not about individual winners, but it’s about spreading out the wins so the Wolverines get points in every event they can.
And, because of a dominating presence in almost every event, for the first time in a decade, the Michigan women’s track and field team took home the Big Ten indoor title.
A consensus among the athletes and coaches is that it’s about time, too.
“The last two or three years I’ve had this feeling,” said Henry, who is currently in his 32nd season at the helm of the program. “Sometimes, things fall your way. This win has been overdue. It’s been something we’ve been working so hard to do. We’ve been close, and even when we were close, we’ve been in it. And that’s our goal, to always be in it. This year we were really in it to win it, and this time it happened.”
The sixth-ranked Wolverines traveled to the Big Ten Indoor Championships in Geneva, Ohio, to compete as one of 13 teams in the conference for the two-day event. They won the meet after totaling 109 points, with 13 individual athletes scoring in 10 events just on the second day.
On the first day, there were several standout performances. Seniors Cindy Ofili (23.65) ran in the 200-meter dash, and Maya Long (53.76) raced in the 400-meter dash — each setting a Michigan record.
Junior Erin Finn also had an impressive first day, winning the 3,000-meter race with a time of 9:08.09 — claiming the first conference title of the weekend. And the distance medley relay reclaimed its title for the 12th time in 13 indoor championships, crossing the finish line at 11:09.89.
Despite the individual accomplishments, spirits were low. The Wolverines were trailing by 31 points.
“We knew had a potential, but we had to show up (on Saturday) and things had to come together,” said junior Erin Finn. “And we did, which is awesome.
“Every team has the studs and those who can rack up a lot of points. What makes a difference is a lot of little points. It adds up. You don’t want to focus on one thing. You can count on big scorers but you need the little stuff, too, to actually win. We knew that everything mattered.”
And everything did.
Senior Shannon Osika won her first career individual Big Ten crown in the mile run (4:39.76). But in the same race, fifth-year senior Laura Addision and sophomore Claire Borchers finished fourth and fifth, respectively. Collectively, both women garnered 19 points for Michigan.
In the 800-meter race, the depth of the team shined as well. The Wolverine pack finished first, third, fifth and sixth with fifth-year senior Devon Hoppe in the first slot. Hoppe also came away with her first individual title with a time of 2:05.55 — a personal best.
Perhaps the best example of the way the program emphasizes the team’s depth above individual performances was Ofili’s attitude.
Though the sprinter brought in a final tally of 16 overall points, she wasn’t able to be a three-peat title holder in the 60-meter hurdles after placing fifth for a time of 7.39. Henry pointed out that she was still smiling ear to ear, focusing on Michigan’s win.
“We’re all still a little bit in disbelief,” Finn said. “At Michigan, being a Big Ten title-winner is incredibly cool, but it’s also the standard. And we haven’t done it in a really long time. We all feel weird — we’ve all been dreaming about this since day one, maybe even before, but it’s never happened. It’s a weird mix between, ‘Yeah, it’s Michigan and it should happen,’ and, ‘Wow, this did happen.’ ”
Finn said she remembers feeling angry, in some ways, in the days leading up to the meet. Plastered on the walls in Henry’s office are pictures of all Michigan’s Big Ten champion teams — and none of her teams were on the wall.
But she took that determination to her final race, the 5,000-meter, and defended her title and broke her own school record. And it was after redshirt sophomore Gina Sereno crossed the finish line in sixth that Michigan knew it had won.
“Going into the 5,000, we knew if Finn and Sereno did their part we knew it would take care of it,” Henry said. “(The win) would be locked up. That’s when we knew we won.”
And with that, the whole team won. It won with all of those little fish.