Freshman Alex Moran doesn’t know when the baton was dropped during the distance medley relay. But somewhere between the redshirt junior’s 1,200-meter leg and freshman Garrett McPeek’s anchor mile, the baton slipped.
This resulted in the Wolverines finishing with a time of 10:24.36 to come in third place — out of three teams.
The medley was run by, in order, Moran in the 1,200-meter, senior Phil Washington III in the 400-meter, freshman Jason Ferrante in the 800-meter and anchored by McPeek in the mile.
Despite the loss, Moran recognizes that the relay was more of a strategic experience than anything else. Moran used it as a way to practice running in multiple events during a weekend, Washington has been having issues with injury and wanted a chance to run, while both freshmen used the relay as a way just to compete more.
The Michigan’s men’s track and field team competed in a split-squad weekend, sending athletes to the Vanderbilt Indoor Invitational in Nashville and a group of pole vaulters to the Jet’s Pizza Invitational at Saginaw Valley State University — both non-scoring meets. Most athletes did not compete because they wanted to rest a bit before the opening weekend of championship season next week in another split-squad weekend at Notre Dame and Akron.
“We are starting into the championship phase of the season,” said Michigan coach Jerry Clayton, “so this weekend we held out probably 80 percent of the team and gave an opportunity for some of the younger guys to step it up and see where they are at.”
Added Moran: “(Fifth-year senior) Mason Ferlic and (junior) Ben Flanagan weren’t down there, and they’re two of the biggest leaders on the team. It was definitely noticeable, but it gave some other guys an opportunity to compete. It was on us to step up into that leader position.”
On the first day of competition in Nashville, redshirt sophomore Khoury Crenshaw, redshirt freshman John Weeks and freshman Blake Washington raced in the 200-meter sprint. Crenshaw ran a 22.20 to place second in the second section, Weeks ran a personal best of 23.26 and Washington won his heat.
Moran typically runs the mile. But this weekend, along with the 1,200-meter leg of the distance medley relay, he competed in the 800-meter run. He ran a personal best in the 800-meter on the second day of competition with a time of 1:53.56 to come in third for his heat and 10th overall.
“(Running other races) definitely helps with the mile,” Moran said. “The thing I talked to (assistant coach Kevin Sullivan) about was getting down there and running the distance faster. I was trying to get more comfortable with the mile pace by working on faster courses.”
The other Wolverines in the 800-meter pack — McPeek and Ferrante — posted times of 1:55.53 and 1:57.16, respectively. Both times were personal bests.
Also competing during the second day at the Vanderbilt Invitational was freshman Matthew Plowman in the mile (4:14.14). His time was a personal best and a heat victory. Redshirt sophomore Austin Benoit and redshirt freshman Ryan Wilkie also ran the mile — both for just the second time while at Michigan.
In the 400-meter race, the senior Washington and freshman Washington both placed, with the elder finishing fifth overall and the younger coming in 10th.
At the Jet’s Pizza Invitational, all three competing Wolverines were among the top six finishers. Senior Michael Hovater cleared 4.71 meters to lead the group to finish in second. The other two pole vaulters, both freshmen, Nick Burkhalter and Kevin Haughn, cleared 4.56 meters each to come in fifth and sixth, respectively. For Burkhalter, it was a season best.
For Moran, a lot of the enthusiasm and positivity on the team is stemming back to the summer, when the men’s cross country team set their goals to win the Big Ten Championship — and fufilled them.
“Now that we have that success, on the distance side, all the athletes on the team are seeing that,” Moran said. “So now everybody’s jumping on board to get to that same success. It’s an awesome feeling to win as a team. It’s a really fun time to be on the team and in the locker room because we’re all focused. Things are going really well, and they’re still moving forward.”
The team will be starting its indoor championship season next weekend. This time, they’ll look to hold onto the baton.