One of the best parts of a track meet for Micaela DeGenero doesn’t happen on the turf.
It comes on the side, as right on the outskirts of the track, teams hoist up tents for their players to wait in between races. As a distance runner, DeGenero doesn’t spend much time with teammates outside of her event — grinding everyday practice primarily with her distance group. But underneath the white and blue tarps during the meets, she sits with the rest of the team.
As people return from their race, jump or throw, regardless of event, they cheer, and do so even harder when players come back with a career best.
“I think one of the best parts for me for outdoor meets and when we travel as a team is that you get to spend time with people from other event areas,” DeGenero said. “And we’re all sitting in the tent together and it’s great when someone comes back, and it’s like, ‘Bailey and Kayla just got a (personal record)!’ And it’s just a great team dynamic.
“I think that really sets the tone over all not just for distance runners but our track program and also setting the tone for the season.”
If it was any way to judge the tone of the Michigan men’s and women’s track and field teams during their meet Friday and Saturday in Nashville, Tenn., it’s through the excitement in their voices as shouts of new career bests echoed through the tents — seven times.
In the Black and Gold Invitational, the men’s program fielded two of the career-bests, while the women had five. Fifth-year senior Bailey Baker recorded 47.20 meters on her discus throw. While senior Kayla Keane didn’t break the top-10 in the 3,000 meters, she did break her personal record for a 10:02.60 time. Freshman Sydney McGinley got a 14.42 on the 100 meter hurdles for a top-10 finish. Sophomore Chloe Foster followed suit with a top-three finish but with a 59.33 in the 400-meter hurdles.
“Lot of the distance runners, especially with it being their first outdoor meet,” said junior Roland Amarteifio. “I thought they had performed really well just coming from, a lot of people were trying to get healthy from indoor season.”
DeGenero and Kathryn House headlined the women’s team with top finishes in the 800 meters and 3,000 meters, respectively. On one hand, House had a picture-finish win by running the 3,000 meters in 9:29.46, with the next two runners within half a second of her.
But DeGenero was dominant, recording a 2:08.45 time that was two seconds faster than the next two closest runners. In a way, it was redemption for her.
She had been frustrated with her finish in the 1,500 meters, placing seventh. After a tough two weeks of training for the meet, DeGenero had felt the jitters in her season debut on the outdoor field. Instead, for Saturday’s event, she cleared her head and focused not on times or records, but on just giving it her all and doing her best. And ironically, that led to a new career best.
“We weren’t really primed and peaked for this meet,” DeGenero said. “It was more for fitness and getting back into the swing of getting into racing. But everybody really I think stepped up to the occasion and competed well even though we might have been a little bit tired this weekend.”
The purpose of the meet wasn’t to break records, but rather, get everyone back in the grooves of things — a sentiment both Amarteifio and DeGenero shared.
“I thought from what everyone was able to show, that that definitely wasn’t the best that they’re going to run this year,” Amarteifio said. “I thought it was good to get everyone out there and competing.
“It’s been a few weeks, and for some, over a month since they’ve completed like at Big Tens which was the last meet that we’ve had, so I think it was really good for people to get out there and get back to racing and just competing against pretty good competition.”
In the process of preparing for the bigger stage, however, Amarteifio tied his career best.
Finishing runner-up in the 110-meter hurdles, Amarteifio then took it to another level for the 400-meter hurdles.
Before the meet began, he had intended to try something he and his coach had been working on for a while. It was a different approach to the hurdles, a 13-step pattern. All of last year, he had worked with a 14-step pattern, but losing the extra step helps with a faster finish.
The day before the event, during practice, something wasn’t right with the new approach.
“It just really wasn’t coming together the way I wanted it to,” Amarteifio said. “And so I kinda just came back to my old step patterns from last year.”
Reusing his 14-step approach that gave him a career-best time in the Big Ten Championships last year, he replicated his performance from then with a 51.73 time in the 400-meter hurdles. It gave him the first-place finish. Still, a feeling of disappointment lingered.
“I was probably a little disappointed,” Amarteifio said. “Because I think going into this new technique would help me to be able to run faster especially in the earlier part of my race so that’s something that I’m looking forward to continuing to work on for the rest of the season, as far as disappointing, I guess I was a little disappointed.”
The meet wasn’t as disappointing for everyone, though, with senior Ben Hill placing top three in two different events, winning the 1,500 meter outright with a 3:51.09 while placing third in the 800-meter with a 1:50.79.
“I think Ben did a great job running the 1500 on Friday and the 800 on Saturday,” Amarteifio said. “I thought he did a great job doubling up and kind of showing us his ability of running really well, back-to-back days and stuff because that’s what we’re going to need at the end of the season with Big Ten being multiple days.”
The race, in many ways, was a gauge to see how many people were ready for the Big Ten Championships. From speed to stamina, both teams used the Black and Gold Invitational to prepare themselves for the long run.
“We only have four or five races before big ten so every one still counts,” Amarteifio said. “So it’s important for me to put my best foot forward each race.”