By Jake Lourim, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 28, 2014
If Michigan women’s track and field coach James Henry wanted to make excuses for any of this weekend’s performances, he could: Inexperience. Final exams.
There was even an unfortunate incident in the hammer throw in which a hammer hit an unsuspecting bystander during competition.
But all Henry wanted was a strong effort from his team during one of the busiest times of the year — and he got it.
Freshman Sami Michell was the Michigan athlete most often on the leaderboard. Michell continued her young career by adding a couple of good finishes to her resume at the Hillsdale Relays. Meanwhile, the Wolverines also sent a contingent to the historic Penn Relays in Philadelphia, where sophomore sprinter Cindy Ofili finished ninth with a time of 14.15 seconds in the 100-meter dash.
As a freshman, Michell continues to improve and gain consistency. She tied for fifth in the long jump with a personal-best 17-11 3/4. The next day, she finished second in the 100-meter hurdles with a career-best 13.89 and third in the 400-meter hurdles with a time of 1:02.27.
Michell has progressed rapidly since coming to Michigan from Reed City, Mich., a small town in the northwestern part of the state. She has had to make some adjustments during the jump from Reed City to the Big Ten training routine in Ann Arbor, but this weekend was a positive step.
“She keeps getting back on the horse — it’s knocking her off quite a bit,” Henry said. “She showed some improvements this weekend, as long as she continues to get at it, we think she’s going to continue to improve. She’s going in the right direction for the conference meet.”
Her finish in the 100-meter hurdles was impressive considering she was coming from behind for most of the race. Michell said she needs to continue to improve her start, which Henry said will get better as the team moves from the conditioning phase of the season into the speed and technique training phase of the season.
“You can’t rush mother nature, you can’t rush father time,” Henry said. “She only can do what we ask her to do. If we push it too much, she could get injured or she could get discouraged.”
Much of Michell’s improvement will be in the 400-meter hurdles. High-school runners run the 300-meter hurdles, but the extra distance adds about 15-18 seconds, forces Michell to be more conditioned and adds a mental aspect.
She said she still lacks some confidence and struggles to handle her nerves during the race.
“Saturday, I (started) out really well, but as soon as I got to the 200, I got tired and my form kind of fell apart and I stuttered. Once you start doing that, it just makes the race so much harder.”
Henry said Michell’s confidence will come over time. In the meantime, he’s not concerned.
“Those are the types of things that we as coaches take pride in — getting these young athletes that are diamonds in the rough and shining them up and getting them to our level,” Henry said. “As she develops as an athlete, I think her performances will get better — it’s just going to take some time.”
On the other end of the spectrum is fifth-year senior Kiley Tobel, who tied for third in the pole vault at 12-7 3/4 feet.
Where Michell lacks confidence, Tobel has it. Where Michell has years to improve, Tobel has weeks. While Michell thinks about ways to get faster, Tobel must also think about what to do when she graduates.
Henry is pleased with the mix of athletes he had competing this past weekend. Michell credited some of her success to training with Ofili and senior Erin Busbee, the more experienced runners. But he also wants to pull some younger runners out of the rough.