Standout sophomore Shannon Osika poised to lead future of Michigan running

By Michael Kessler, Daily Sports Writer
Published September 26, 2013

The transition to college can be challenging. Enrolling halfway through the academic year certainly doesn’t make the process any easier.

Tacking on a starring role on the Michigan women’s track and field team? All in a day’s work for standout redshirt sophomore Shannon Osika.

Joining the Wolverines halfway through the 2011-2012 season, Osika made an immediate impact as a freshman, earning All-Big Ten first-team honors and running the 1,200-meter leg of the Big Ten-winning distance medley relay.

It might have been overwhelming for some, but the soft-spoken, even-keeled Osika took it all in stride.

“I didn’t really expect anything, I just wanted to come in with an open mind,” Osika said. “I knew the other girls had been training, I did a lot of work too coming in, so I knew I’d be able to transfer over pretty well. But it was just exciting to be a part of that top group because there are a lot of good strong runners on the team.”

Much of that top group, however, was reaching the end of their collegiate careers, leaving behind a youth-laden, inexperienced squad looking for underclassmen to step up to the plate and establish the future of Michigan cross country and track. Osika was in a perfect position to oblige.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Osika adapted to the collegiate environment so fluidly; not only did both of her parents run track in college, they were both coached by Michigan coach Mike McGuire. That Osika ended up at Michigan herself, then, is no coincidence.

“What I really wanted was to be on a team where the girls are really close, and are excited to go to practice,” she said. “And I really liked coach McGuire, so it just seemed like a perfect fit.”

While Osika found her perfect match at Michigan, the Wolverines could not have been happier with her consistent production. Following her shortened, yet breakout freshman season, Osika returned in 2012 for her first full season of collegiate competition as a redshirt freshman.

And she didn’t disappoint. Playing a major role in Michigan winning the Big Ten and Great Lakes Region titles in the 2012 season, Osika was rewarded with All-Big Ten second-team honors and the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award.

But she wasn’t done yet. During the indoor track season, she finished 14th in the mile run, her signature event, at the NCAA Indoor Championships, and made the All-America second team. All in all, the year could not have gone better, but Osika was quick to shift the focus away from her past achievements and toward her upcoming sophomore season.

“I’m really happy with how it went, I think it was a really good season,” said Osika. “But I’m really excited for this season too because we did lose some top girls, but a lot of people are stepping up. So while it’s great that we had a great season, I think we’ll have an even better one this year.”

Though Osika’s pedigree may have foreshadowed her current standout status for the Wolverines, her general demeanor, described by McGuire as “shy,” is certainly not a typical trait of an athlete on a team. But that’s only because Osika prefers to let her running do the talking, leaving behind a modest, unassuming backdrop that only accentuates her talent and potential on the track.

This is not to say she doesn’t feel the pressure of a young squad looking for a rock to rely on. Far from it, in fact.

“I feel it a little bit, but it’s not bad pressure,” she said. “It’s good, it’s motivating and encouraging. We’ve talked about it, and we’re pretty excited about taking that leadership role and keeping the ball rolling.”

In that vein, Osika said she stepped up her offseason routine, putting in more miles and working to be more fit than she was a year before. The early results have certainly been encouraging. She defended her title in the season-opening Michigan Open event, winning Big Ten Athlete of the Week in the process. Though she has been sidelined the past few weeks with a shin injury, she hopes to be back for Michigan’s next event at the Rim Rock Farm Classic on Oct. 5.

Considering Osika’s across-the-board success in both cross country and track and field, one might be hard-pressed to discern her favorite of the two sports. But Osika refuses to play favorites herself.

“Cross country is my favorite when it’s cross country season, and track is my favorite when it’s track and field season,” Osika said. “I think that’s a good way to look at it, too. I never want to just compete, I want to embrace the season I’m in.”

It’s an attitude befitting an athlete who always keeps her sights focused straight ahead, letting her maturity, poise and talent shine through every step of the way.

Correction appended: A previous version of this article contained a misspelling of Mike McGuire’s name.