The Michigan track and field teams sent eight athletes in total — five men and three women — to compete at the NCAA Outdoor Championships last week in Eugene, Ore. from Wednesday to Saturday.
While the Wolverines weren’t as well-represented as they were last year, when six men and five women qualified for the national meet, they made their presences count with three All-American honors and an individual national championship.
The women’s team finished 21st overall with 10 points, and the men placed 41st with a score of six.
The highlight of the competition for Michigan was the performance of junior Jaimie Phelan, who won the 1,500-meter run to become the Wolverines’ first national champion in that event.
Phelan began the race in last place out of 12 runners, and spent most of the race there. But she flew into the lead with 200 meters to go, and with a blistering final lap of 61.62 seconds, she held off Arkansas’s Nikki Hiltz by two-hundredths of a second — 4:13.78 seconds to 4:13.80 — to win the second-closest final in NCAA history.
The Ontario native won All-American honors for a second straight year after she finished eighth in 2016, and caps off the year having won the Big Ten and NCAA championships in the 1,500 meters.
“(It hasn’t sunk in) yet, honestly,” Phelan said. “It won’t hit for a while, for sure. I think there’s still a lot to accomplish — after this season, the next big thing is to get ready for (cross-country). It’s been an unbelievable year.”
Michigan was also represented in the 3,000-meter steeplechase by junior Claire Borchers. After a second-place finish at the Big Ten Championships and a victory in the NCAA Preliminary Round two weeks ago, Borchers recorded a time of 10:07.35 in the semifinals Thursday — good enough for an honorable mention All-American nod, but not enough to qualify her for the final.
Senior Gina Sereno, who swept the 5,000 and 10,000 meter races at the conference championships last month, put her undefeated record for the season on the line Saturday night in the 5,000 meters. Sereno asserted herself in the lead pack for the first half of the race, but with just under a mile to go, she fell off that pace and slipped to 15th, with a time of 16:03.55.
The men’s team has been able to count on its throwing contingent for consistent results this season, and the NCAA Championships were no different. Wednesday, sophomore Joe Ellis — the 2017 Big Ten champion and the program record holder in the hammer throw — placed eighth in that event with a toss of 70.33 meters to finish eighth, which marked the Wolverines’ highest finish in the hammer throw since 1933.
Ellis had the longest throw of any eighth-place finisher in history, a testament to the quality of the competition.
“It’s all about competing on the day, and being in the first flight makes it all the more fun because all your nerves are still going,” Ellis said. “70 meters for me at this stage is a huge deal every time I do it, so just to hit it twice in the same competition with 69 backing it up, I’m pretty thrilled.”
Ellis was joined in the throwing events by junior Grant Cartwright and freshman Andrew Liskowitz, who finished 22nd and 23rd, respectively, in the shot put to grab honorable mention All-American nods.
Senior decathlete Steven Bastien closed out his Michigan career with a fourth-place finish in the decathlon. Powered by five personal-bests, he recorded a score of 8,015 — breaking his own program record.
Bastien’s impressive finish may have been most surprising to Bastien himself. Injuries early in the year threatened to derail his season, but he instead will leave Michigan with All-American honors to his name, as well as a Big Ten championship.
“I just want to thank God, because I didn’t see this happening,” Bastien said. “I sort of imagined that I could, but I just feel blessed to be able to come to this school and have the people around me that I had around me to push me to this and to help me achieve this type of thing.”
Bastien set personal records in the 110-meter hurdles, 100-meters, 400-meters, high jump and pole vault. His high jump success might have been the most unexpected, and because of this was the most satisfying for him.
“As far as the whole injury thing went, that was what was really setting me back,” Bastien said. “Something about the way I was taking off was just really making my knee aggravated. To have an outdoor PR, wasn’t really expecting that at all.”
Sophomore Taylor McLaughlin was the Wolverines’ sole running representative, in the 400-meter hurdles. After a first-team All-American debut last season, McLaughlin was unable to advance out of the semifinals, but ran a season-best time of 50.18 seconds to be named to the second team.