By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 8, 2012
If early-season track meets are good indicators of how a team will perform throughout the season, then the Michigan men’s track and field team is poised for an outstanding outdoor season.
Over the weekend, the Wolverines traveled to Virginia for the William and Mary Relays,walking away with several strong performances and a first-place finish with 167 points, 17 ahead of runner-up Bucknell.
Michigan had an up-and-down indoor season and needed a spark of confidence to turn around the outdoor season. A long break between the indoor and outdoor seasons combined with unseasonably warm weather helped propel the Wolverines. Michigan finished in the top-two of every relay event.
Michigan coach Fred LaPlante was pleased with his squad’s performance in its second outdoor meet of the season — the Wolverines placed in the top 10 of every event on the final day of competition. Though the competition didn’t include big-name teams, the field included 27 schools, making the track crowded.
“Guys are getting an opportunity to run with some guys they would normally never run with,” LaPlante said. “Really, there wasn’t any relay that was loaded up with our absolute four best guys. We had to spread it out a little bit and make our guys work for it.”
Michigan had two individual winners on the weekend, as sophomore Ethan Dennis took first in the weight throw and sophomore Ali Aratsu won the 400-meter hurdles in 51.41.
Dennis, who threw his personal-best of 61.33-meters, continued to build off a solid indoor season, in which he finished as a Second Team All-American. But he still sees room for improvement.
“I wish I would have gotten a little more out of (the throws) towards the end of the day,” Dennis said. “But I’ll take what I can get right now.”
Dennis’ biggest concern during the season was his footwork in the ring, a problem he said begins and ends in his head.
“When I don’t think about it, it’s rock solid,” Dennis said. “It’s about focusing on the right stuff, instead of focusing on not messing up as opposed to focusing on throwing far. I can’t worry about the wrong stuff.”
The weekend was about more than individual performances, though, as the meet included obscure races like the 4x1500-meter relay.
Senior Nick Neuman led the way in the relays, helping the sprint medley relay to a first-place finish and the 4x400-meter relay to a second-place finish behind an unattached team from Pierce Sports.
“I’m pretty happy with where we are right now and how I competed,” Neuman said. “I would have liked to have done a little bit better. It’s about getting off to a good start and improving throughout the season.”
LaPlante hopes to see that never-satisfied attitude in his team for the remainder of the season. After struggling in the Big Ten Indoor Championships at the end of the season, the Wolverines are searching for confidence to boost their motivation this season.
“This can help us get in a mental state and can help us prepare for the type of meet we in compete in down the road,” LaPlante said.
Michigan will look to senior distance runner Craig Forys to help carry the team and redshirt senior Robert Peddlar to help spark the sprints and jumps this season, but LaPlante was also adamant that his level of depth is a welcome surprise this early in the season.
“The sport of track is interesting because you compete as an individual, but you get a lot of positive energy from competing for your team and having your team support you,” LaPlante said. “When you get to the Big Ten meet, you can’t just be an individual.”