The Michigan men’s track and field team had finished in the top 15 at the NCAA Outdoor Championships only once in the last 55 seasons. That changed last week.
The Wolverines sent six athletes to Eugene, Ore., who combined to score 15 points — a count good enough to pull Michigan into a tie for 13th place overall.
The highlight of the meet for the Wolverines came from fifth-year senior distance runner Mason Ferlic in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Ferlic entered the meet ranked No. 1 nationally in the event, and backed up that ranking convincingly. Heading into the final lap of the race, the fifth-year senior had opened up a lead so large that even a stumble when landing in the final water pit didn’t thwart his chances of finishing first. Ferlic still won the race easily, finishing 3.51 seconds ahead of the second-place runner.
“He’s been so focused his entire career here at Michigan,” said Michigan coach Jerry Clayton. “But he’s been so dominant in that event every time he’s raced this year. He’s pretty much (gone) out, taken control of the race from the beginning, and that led to him hitting the qualifying standard for the Olympic Trials, and then he carried that right on through the (Big Ten Outdoor Championships), the (NCAA Preliminary Rounds) and even in the qualifying rounds.
“It’s just a credit to him, and what an outstanding way to finish his career as a Wolverine.”
Freshman sprinter Taylor McLaughlin also became an All-American this weekend in the 400-meter hurdles by finishing fifth in the event with a time of 49.74 seconds, only .01 seconds away from his personal record.
McLaughlin finished first among all freshmen competing in the 400-meter hurdles, and with all of the success that he has had in his rookie season, the future looks bright for the freshman.
“I don’t like to put predictions or limits on people,” Clayton said. “I think he can be as good as he wants to be. The talent is there. If he stays focused … we just feel really confident (in McLaughlin). I don’t anticipate any problems from what I’ve seen. He’s just a great person, and that’s the bottom line.”
Ferlic and McLaughlin weren’t the only All-Americans for Michigan. Senior Steven Bastien finished eighth in the decathlon, the lowest finish possible to still qualify for All-American honors. Bastien’s status as an All-American was in doubt right up until the last event of the decathlon: the 1,500-meter run.
Bastien entered the race in ninth place, but finished the race with a personal record time of 4:29.82. The time was good enough to put Bastien in eighth place, just five points ahead of Georgia’s Devon Williams.
The 13th place finish for the Wolverines is their best since 1997, and it comes in just the third year under Clayton, who was also surprised of the success early in his tenure at Michigan.
“When I looked at the job when I was interviewed, I felt, with the tradition Michigan had, there was no reason why we couldn’t be better than they were,” Clayton said. “After I was here a year, I thought, ‘Well this is going to take a little bit longer.’ I thought we were looking at five or six years. But obviously the athletes have responded.”
Michigan will now look to take the momentum from the NCAA Outdoor Championships into the offseason in multiple facets. The coaches will continue recruiting and some of the athletes themselves will prepare to compete in the Olympic Trials in July.
Though the 13th-place finish was the best in recent history, the Wolverines have a lot to look forward to. Because with young guys like McLaughlin returning and the successes of the program as a whole, Michigan will have plenty of experience to lean on as it heads into next season.