With merely a couple of weeks to go before the Big Ten Championships for the men’s and women’s track and field teams, both Michigan squads know the most important competitions of their seasons are still in front of them.
But from their performances at both the SPIRE D1 Invitational and the Iowa State Classic, both teams can glean one major takeaway from their weekend meets: they’re peaking at the right time.
“That is what our goal is, to peak toward the Big Ten (Championships),” said Michigan women’s track and field coach James Henry. “And we’re improving … you can’t ask for more than that.”
Spearheaded by the continued dominance of senior distance runner Erin Finn and freshman phenom sprinter Jade Harrison, the tenth-ranked Wolverines capped off their final full weekend before the Big Ten Championships in style, with 11 athletes improving their personal records on Saturday alone.
Harrison headlined the group’s notable ascension, posting times that nearly broke Michigan records. On Friday, her time of 24.23 in the 200-meter dash came within a quarter of a second of breaking the school record. On Saturday, her time of 54.12 in the 400-meter dash gave her fourth place overall and was just half a second off the program best.
Though those records will likely be shattered before Harrison leaves Michigan, Henry insists that records are not her focus.
“She’s like the team. She’s improving, she’s a good athlete,” Henry said. “She’s not chasing records, she just wants to get better.”
Finn posted a nation-leading time of 15:34.36 in the 5,000-meter race Saturday. The time was also good for the SPIRE facility record, breaking Finn’s own mark of 15:37.31 that won her the Big Ten title last season. With Finn and the rest of the Wolverines returning for the Big Ten Championships in two weeks, the senior will undoubtedly be looking to best that mark once more.
Dual-sport athlete Claire Kieffer-Wright took home Michigan’s only individual win on Saturday, emerging victorious in the high-jump. Her season-best jump of 1.78 meters came just two centimeters shy of her career best.
For Henry, getting Kieffer-Wright — also a member of the volleyball team — into high-jumping shape has presented a challenge, though Kieffer-Wright has been up to the task.
“That’s probably one of the hardest things that I have to do as a coach,” Henry said. “She wants to be a two-sport athlete and she’s working in both sports simultaneously. I’m very impressed with her work ethic and patience to get better.”
For the men, another dual-sport athlete bested his own personal record. Junior Drake Johnson finished as the runner-up in the 60-meter hurdles, earning a career-best time of 7.93 seconds at the SPIRE Invitational.
In the shot put, senior Grant Cartwright also finished second. Cartwright currently sits on the outside looking in at the NCAA Championship picture; he ranks 18th nationally, with just the top 16 athletes advancing to the finals.
According to Michigan coach Jerry Clayton, “It’ll take right at his personal best” for Cartwright to sneak into the top-16.
The Wolverines, though, recognize that the results in two weeks at the same location will matter more. This tune-up gave Clayton an opportunity to send a younger group to SPIRE and allow them to get their feet wet in the same location. After all, it will be that same setting that determines their ultimate Big Ten fate.
“I thought overall we had a lot of consistency from event to event,” Clayton said. “I think now we just need to refocus and get set on the championship and go there with a positive attitude.”