Women’s track ready to compete for conference title after tune-up in Toledo

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By Zach Shaw, Daily Sports Writer
Published May 12, 2014

This time, it counts.

After winning four events in last weekend’s non-scoring Toledo Invitational, the No. 24 Michigan women’s track and field team will turn its attention to this weekend’s Big Ten Outdoor Championships in West Lafayette.

In Toledo, sophomore sprinter/hurdler Cindy Ofili notched wins in the 100-meter hurdles and the 100-meter dash, while sophomore mid-distance runner Maya Long and junior distance runner Brooke Handler notched wins in the 400-meter and 800-meter runs, respectively.

But for Michigan coach James Henry, wins weren’t the goal of the weekend.

“The wins were secondary to what we were trying to do, which was try to get another race in for everyone,” Henry said. “We wanted to compete in a low-key, non-pressure environment, and come out as healthy as we can and confident in what we can do next week. The wins were just a bonus of that.”

After a second-place finish at the Indoor Championships on Feb. 28, the Wolverines head into the Outdoor Championships as the second-ranked team, behind only No. 19 Penn State and one spot ahead of Nebraska.

With a chance to capture the crown, Henry is calling on his team to use the same mentality that got his team as far as it has.

“It’s always our goal to be competitive, and be in the hunt to win,” Henry said. “If we go out and be competitive and all other things fall in our favor, we might be able to come away with a title.

“First and foremost, I’m asking them to give their best. Secondly, I’m asking them to do their best. Third, we’re hoping to be the best, but the other two have to come first.”

Michigan will be led by Ofili, Handler and freshman distance runner Erin Finn, who each own a top time in the conference in the 100-meter hurdles, the 100-meter hurdles, 1,500-meter run and 5,000-meter run, respectively.

The trio are the Wolverines’ best chances at individual titles, but Henry is hoping a top-down approach can lead to successful weekend for the entire team.

“Those three have been standing out for us all season, and are performing at a high level right now,” Henry said. “Hopefully they can get off to strong starts, and the rest of the team can see that success and build off of that as the weekend goes on.”

With 17 top-eight times in the conference spanning 11 different events, Michigan sends a balanced, competitive group to West Lafayette.

As the number of practices decreases, Henry is looking for a collective mindset to balance the pressures of a potential eighth outdoor title.

“We’re picking up the intensity a little bit and focusing a little more,” Henry said. “But we’re also trying to stay loose and relaxed and not do too much. It’s a contradictory statement, but that’s what it’s going to take.”