Two days into the Big Ten Outdoor Championships, the Michigan women’s track and field team was nowhere close to following up its Big Ten Indoor Championship with another title. The Wolverines were in sixth place with one day remaining, and even worse, they were 33 points behind the leaders Minnesota.
To most, the deficit would appear to be too grand. But for Michigan, they knew their best day was still in store.
“We were down a lot, to be honest,” said Michigan coach James Henry. “We just had to take care of what we could control, and that was to get people into the finals and compete as best you can in the finals.”
The Wolverines entered the day with 23 points, but quickly gained six points when sophomore Claire Kieffer-Wright claimed third place in the high jump with a height of 1.82 meters.
Things started to get even better for Michigan Sunday when fifth-year senior Shannon Osika — who was the Big Ten Indoor Champion in the mile — and redshirt sophomore Jaimie Phelan finished one, two in the mile, giving the Wolverines 18 more points. Only two hours into the day, and already Michigan had doubled its previous point total, giving the team a glimmer of hope.
Still, though, much was yet to come. Only 20 minutes after the one, two sweep, senior Cindy Ofili vaulted the Wolverines even closer to the top with her third consecutive championship in the 100-meter hurdles, narrowly winning by one second with a time 12.91 seconds.
“I was happy to have won,” Ofili said. “However, it was not a good race. I didn’t get out as well as I would have liked to, so it took a while to finish. I wasn’t happy with the way I did it, but I was happy to bring home a Big Ten title for Michigan.”
Junior Sami Mitchell also finished seventh in the 100-meter hurdles, providing two small — yet pricelessly crucial — points to the team’s championship hopes. In the next race, 400-meter dash, the Wolverines’ winning streak came to an end, but senior Maya Long was able to add four more points to the team’s point total with a fifth place finish.
“You can’t win a championship with all big fish and all big points,” Henry said. “Every point counted for us. The winning kids were just as important as the kid who took eighth place for us because it actually was every point that counted, and we would not have won without the eight place kid. Every start shined for us.”
The stars especially started to shine in the 800-meter run, Michigan’s best event of the meet. Fifth-year senior Devon Hoppe — who won the Big Ten Indoor Championship in the same event — took first place with a time of 2:06.73, and right behind her was Osika for the one, two sweep. Redshirt junior Danielle Pfeiffer finished fourth, giving the Wolverines a total 23 points in the event – matching the number they entered the day with.
“During the race I got a little boxed in, but when the opening came I just took it,” Hoppe said. “That was my plan from the beginning, to make a really strong, confident move when the opportunity presented itself. I trusted myself, and things worked out great.”
After a fifth place in the 100-meter dash by Ofili gave Michigan four more points, the Wolverines had a chance to take the lead with a win in the 5,000 meter. Promptly, they did such that.
Redshirt sophomore Gina Sereno — who won her first Big Ten event in the 10,000 meter on Friday — gave Michigan 10 more points, and a lead with one event remaining, with a victory in the 5,000 meter. Four hours after they weren’t even in the top five, the Wolverines needed only one more race to sweep the Big Ten Championships for the first time since 2003.
Michigan entered the final race — the 4 x 400 meter relay — with 102 points, one more than Minnesota’s 101. With a win, the Wolverines would be outright champions, while a loss by more than one spot would give the Golden Gophers the crown. For the collective good of both teams, though, neither of those scenarios happened.
Minnesota finished the race in the fourth place with a time of 3:32.50, giving its team five points and a total of 106 points. Michigan, finished in fifth place with a time of 3:33.42, giving its team four points and total of: 106 points.
“We knew that the score was tied, but no one really knew what that meant,” Hoppe said. “I ran over to (assistant coach) Mike (McGuire) and said, ‘What happens?’ and he just laughed at me and said, ‘We both win!’ After that, everyone got really excited and there was a lot of celebrating.”
After the meet, some of the athletes thought there might be a tie-breaker. But in the end, the lackluster first two days were a thing of the past, and the score the board in Lincoln, Neb. read was the one that stood: Michigan 106 and Minnesota 106 – Big Ten Champions.