Too little, too late.

After two straight years on the Big Ten throne, the Michigan
women’s track and field team has finally given up the crown.
At this weekend’s Big Ten indoor championships in Iowa City,
a late charge pulled the Wolverines (98.33 points) within striking
distance. But an injury-riddled Michigan team could not get over
the hump. Penn State’s (115 points) well-rounded squad fended
off the Wolverines and celebrated their first-ever Big Ten
championship.

“Penn State was a big, big favorite,” Michigan coach
James Henry said. “And we gave them a run for their
money.”

Injuries plagued the Wolverines. Long-distance runner Rebecca
Walter and pole-vaulter Elizabeth Boyle were out the entire indoor
season, while star thrower Melissa Bickett competed with a sprained
knee, placing eighth in the shot put. With Michigan’s stars
out, the Nittany Lions rose to the top, winning Walter’s
event, the 5,000-meter run, and Bickett’s event, the shot
put.

“We need to get healthy,” Henry said. “We
brought a limited squad.”

The Wolverines entered the second day of competition in fourth
place, but were still confident about their chances.

“We had a significant number of people qualify for the
next round,” Henry said. “We got 30 percent more people
in the finals than we expected.”

The Wolverines came through with eight top-three performances in
12 events on the meet’s final day, even pulling within six
points of Penn State after the 600-meter run. But they just
couldn’t match the Nittany Lions’ firepower.

“We overachieved,” Henry said. “That’s
indicative of the type of team we have.”

Two Michigan middle-distance runners earned individual Big Ten
titles. Sophomore Katie Erdman continued her undefeated indoor
season with a track record, earning a victory in the 600-meter run
(1:29.57). Junior Theresa Feldkamp placed first in the 800-meter
run (2:09.96), earning her first ever Big Ten victory.

Michigan’s distance-medley relay team of Andrea Parker,
Vera Simms, Stephanie Hirtle and Katie Erdman (11:33.76)
highlighted the first day of competition with its first-place
finish.

While the Wolverines would have preferred a victory in Iowa
City, they are keeping the second-place finish in perspective.

“When you looked at it on paper, we were a fourth or maybe
fifth-place team,” Henry said.

Although a third-straight “triple crown” is now
impossible, the Wolverines’ goals for the upcoming outdoor
season have not changed. With Walter, Boyle and Bickett expected to
return, and the arrival of Sierra Hauser-Price from the basketball
team, Michigan is confident it can re-establish itself atop the Big
Ten this spring.

“Our goal every year is to be in the top three or defend
our championship,” Henry said. “We’ll get some
rest, re-energize, get healthy. All the other characteristics of a
winning team are in place.”

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