Last year, senior Cindy Ofili fell during the preliminaries of the 60-meter hurdles, destroying her NCAA title ambitions in the process. This year, a similar stumble nearly shattered her dream once again.
But instead, she came home with a national championship.
“It happened so quickly, so I couldn’t think,” Ofili said. “I stumbled, and I went straight to my form.”
In the preliminaries of the 60-meter hurdles at the NCAA Indoor Championships, Ofili tripped off the block. Unlike last year, though, she was able to regain her composure and finish the race.
It was no certainty that Ofili’s run would be fast enough to qualify her for the final race. Rather, she had to anxiously wait for the remainder of the preliminary races to finish.
Fortunately for Ofili, she reset her form after faltering early, and her qualifying time gave her the eighth — and final — spot in the championship race.
“Going into the race, I knew once I got past the preliminary round, it was anybody’s game from there,” Ofili said. “I went into it with confidence, knowing that I’ve been in the national stage multiple times, and nothing is different. It’s just another race.”
This time around, Ofili didn’t have a problem off the block. She ran the 10th-fastest time in NCAA history — finishing in 7.89 seconds — and came home with the national championship.
With the win, Ofili garnered 10 of Michigan’s 31 points, helping the Wolverines earn a sixth-place finish overall, their best since 2008.
Ofili, though, wasn’t even Michigan’s top contributor on the day.
In two distance events, junior Erin Finn was running near the front, with a shot at a national championship in each.
Finn wasn’t able to muster quite enough at the end of the races, though, and finished second behind Notre Dame’s Molly Seidel in both the 3,000-meter and 5,000-meter runs.
Still, the races were not a disappointment. In the 5,000-meter, Finn bested her indoor personal best by 14 seconds and set a new school record in the process. The two runner-up finishes made Finn an All-American in both events, and contributed a team-high 16 points to Michigan’s NCAA Championship cause.
“Individually, I’m very happy,” Finn said. “But I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to win. It definitely opened up my eyes a little bit more to show that I belong not just fighting for an All-American spot, but fighting for the national championship spot.”
Also earning points for the Wolverines was the distance medley relay team, which finished in fourth place with a time of 10:59.05 — earning Michigan five more points. The race was competitive until the end, but the relay team fell two seconds short of a national title.
“As a team it was so, so cool to get sixth place,” Finn said. “That’s as high as we were ever ranked all season, and that’s higher than we came in ranked, so that was very exciting. To be a top-10 national team, when there are so many schools that have track teams, is very, very cool.”
Despite the sixth-place finish, the season is only halfway over. This championship was just for the indoor portion of the season, and the outdoor portion still lasts another three months. For the Wolverines, resting and regrouping is their priority. After all, they certainly earned it.
“We’re going to take it down for a bit now,” Finn said. “There’s a progression of the training and we’re going to start all over. We have a good base from indoors, and we’re going to build on this come outdoor (season).”