The Michigan men’s track and field team has steadily improved under the tenure of coach Jerry Clayton. This weekend at the NCAA Preliminary Rounds was no different, as the Wolverines had six athletes qualify for the NCAA Outdoor Championships — the most since Clayton has taken over.

Redshirt freshman thrower Joe Ellis was the first person to secure his spot for Michigan on Thursday, which he did on his final attempt in the hammer throw.  Ellis unleashed a throw of 68.25 meters, which not only gave him a fourth-place finish in the meet, but also set a new school record for the Wolverines.

Ellis wasn’t the only freshman to move on for Michigan. Freshman sprinter Taylor McLaughlin clinched his own spot at the NCAA Outdoor Championships on Thursday in the 400-meter hurdles, making him the first true freshman Wolverine to do so in the last 11 years. McLaughlin finished with a time of 49.84 seconds, good enough for a fifth-place finish overall.

Though Ellis and McLaughlin weren’t the only ones to have success this weekend, their contributions as freshmen give Michigan bright hope for its future, and Clayton and his staff hope to use their experiences as references for future freshmen.  

“Hopefully, in the future, we’ll be able to bring in this level of freshmen and they’ll be able to make that transition,” Clayton said. “Or we’ll bring some people in and redshirt them the first year (like Ellis) to help them grow in that respect as well.”

Redshirt sophomore Ben Flanagan qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Championships as well in the 10,000-meter event. Flanagan finished in sixth-place at the meet with a time of 30:04.60 in an event that was extremely competitive throughout. Though most 10,000-meter runs tend to finish with a large amount of separation in between the runners, this particular race finished with just 2.84 seconds separating the winner from the 12th-placed finisher.

The Wolverines’ other three qualifiers for the national meet are redshirt junior decathlete Steven Bastien in the decathlon, fifth-year senior distance runner Mason Ferlic in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and redshirt junior distance runner Tony Smoragiewicz.

All six athletes representing Michigan in the NCAA Outdoor Championships will now turn to preparation for the next two weeks. But for the Wolverines, that doesn’t necessarily mean that anything will change.

“At this point in the season, I think consistency is most important, because you’re going in to new experiences,” Flanagan said. “For example, we have a lot of guys going to nationals for the first time. It can be challenging (not) to attempt try to try different things and feel like you have to put maximum energy into this week. But it’s really important to stay grounded and realize that everything we’ve done up to this point is the reason we’ve been so successful this season, and you really want to stick to that type of routine.”

The NCAA Outdoor Championships will not only serve as the ultimate measuring stick for Michigan’s qualifiers, but it will also serve as a building block for the future.

“If you can get an athlete to the national level in their freshman or sophomore year, it’s a tremendous advantage for them, especially going into their later years,” Clayton said. “Of course, that’s what we want to do, is build the program.”

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