Timing is key.
In the sport of track and field, that statement would seem obvious, but for the No. 20 Michigan men’s track and field team, it goes much deeper.
As the coaching staff emphasizes, it’s not just about timing on the track but timing off of it, too.
For the Wolverines, who sent players to the Music City Challenge, Iowa State Classic and Kent State Qualifier, the timing of their peak couldn’t have been better — despite doing so in non-scoring events.
“This is the time of year where we’re starting to get them ready for conference and nationals,” said Michigan coach Jerry Clayton. “… You know, we’re just really excited with the way they’re coming along. They’re really focused, just training hard, and you know, it’s basically Big Ten time and NCAA Championships two weeks after that.”
Feeling comfortable with the condition of their players heading into the Big Ten Championships, the coaching staff let them loose.
As if giving an opening statement, senior thrower Joe Ellis set the first of many career-bests of the night — three times.
Walking to the circle for the Music City Challenge, Ellis notched 22.76 meters for his first attempt in the weight throw, beating his previous personal best by five centimeters.
Two throws later, and he would break it two more times. Heaving 23.28 meters and 23.30 meters, respectively, Ellis came one centimeter away from the school record set by senior thrower Grant Cartwright.
“I thought Joe did a really good job,” Clayton said. “Coming in, we knew it was going to be a really good meet with the teams that were there. So this was kind of like our last before-our-conference meet for Joe, Grant and a lot of our athletes.”
Ellis and Cartwright took first and second in the event, respectively, their third time this season doing so. Cartwright tied a season-best of 22.33 meters and posted a career-best in shot put by lobbing 19.20 meters — placing 14th nationally and putting him in contention for the 16-man NCAA Championship.
Senior thrower Andrew Liskowitz couldn’t keep up with the pace of his teammates, however. Fouling on all three of his attempts, he took this coaches’ advice to be aggressive, pulling his attempts just outside the sector.
For Clayton, Liskowitz’s performance was acceptable. Outside of a few minor adjustments, fouling out in the Music City Challenge wasn’t because of any concerning faulty technique patterns.
“It wasn’t as though he was doing a foot foul or anything,” Clayton said. “He was just pulling them a little bit. A little bit excited, had his hips rotate faster than what he had probably experienced before.
“I don’t perceive that being a big issue, this is just part of it. We get to this part of the season and we’re seeing where guys are and he’s just going after it. He was going for a big throw. Last one, we could have taken the safe throw, but I just told him, ‘Go after it,’ so we’ll make some adjustments, and we’ll get him back in line for the NCAA Championship.”
Returning to his standard long-distance races after briefly running shorter ones, fifth-year senior Ben Flanagan came into the 5,000 meters after recording a career year in cross country. Looking to beat his personal record, he not only passed it by 15 seconds — running a 13:48.58 — but broke the 14-minute barrier of the race, a notable achievement.
Senior Chase Barnett was one of four Wolverines who posted a career-best in the mile Saturday, running it in 4:02.75. Sophomores Anthony Berry and Andrew Lorant and freshman Luke Wallace also achieved the feat with times of 4:06.77, 4:08.26 and 4:12.57, respectively.
“Chase is really doing a great job,” Clayton said. “He’s dealt with some adversity and has hung in there, stayed tough mentally and really listened to what Coach Sullivan has been doing, and having his advice and everything.
“You know, we’re really pleased to see him have the success that he’s had, because of the way he’s been so focused on his training. … Really pleased to see him starting to come into his own and at the perfect time of the year.”
Potentially the best duo in Michigan history at the triple jump, senior Kevin Stephens Jr. and freshman Daniel Butael jumped for 15.57 meters and 15.42 meters for runner-up and third place, respectively. Stephens managed to jump further than 15 meters three times in a single day — the first time of his career.
The duo made for the first time the Wolverines had two jumpers go further than 15.24 meters or 50 feet.
“Kevin, that’s really a breakthrough for him, but (assistant coach Jenni Ashcroft) done an outstanding job with him this year,” Clayton said. “And of course Daniel, being a freshman, to come into this league and really never done much of indoor track because he’s from Israel. So he’s really come in at an important time and for those two to do what they did this weekend, they’re right on time going in to what we need for the Big Ten Championships.”