Not only did four members of the Michigan men’s track team qualify for the NCAA Indoor Track Championships this weekend, they had the chance to run in the presence of Olympic veterans like Regina Jacobs, Maurice Greene and pole-vaulter Stacey Dragila.
“It was really cool,” sophomore Seth Waits said. “From the moment we got there, we were riding on the bus with Olympians. I even got the chance to talk to Stacey Dragila. Really, it was the highlight of my track career.”
Saturday, coach Ron Warhurst, along with four of his best runners flew to Roxbury, Mass. for the Boston Indoor Games. Sophomores Nate Brannen and Seth Waits and freshmen Nick Willis and Andrew Ellerton proved they could hang with the best when they combined to form a medley relay team. In a distance medley relay, each member runs a different distance for their leg of the race ranging from 400 to 1,600 meters.
Competing against No. 1 Arkansas, No. 5 Villanova, Kentucky, Arizona, Providence College and Darmouth, Michigan placed second with a time of 9:35.80. To get an automatic qualification for the NCAA Championships set for March 14-15 in Fayetteville, Ark., the team needed 9:38.25, but the Wolverines beat that by 25 hundredths of a second.
In the first leg, Brannen ran 1,200 meters in 2:57.
“Nate ran kind of conservative,” Warhurst said. “He’s been battling a case of achilles tendon, and I know he could have run faster.”
“We pretty much went (to Boston) not knowing if I was going to run or not,” Brannen said about his injury. “Literally, the morning of we decided whether or not we were going to race. I was definitely the weak link, but the rest of the guys made up for it.”
Brannen now has qualified for nationals in two events. Along with the relay team, the sophomore will be traveling to Fayetteville for his 1:48.80 time in the 800-meter run, accomplished just a few weeks ago in the Michigan Quadrangular.
After Brannen’s slow start, Waits had to make up time with his quick 400 meters. And he did, passing the baton to teammate Ellerton after 48.1 seconds.
“The (baton) handoff was where we really lost the time,” Waits said. “(Despite his injury), Nate had a great leg. One of the runners from Kentucky got in the way which lost us about 10 meters.”
Ellerton finished his 800 meters of the race in 1:50.6. In Ellerton’s first season with Michigan, he has already torn up the track several times, taking first in the 800 at the Michigan Intrasquad meet and first in the 600 at the Michigan Quadrangular.
“I just tried to stay with the other guys and do what I had to do,” Ellerton said.
Then it all fell on the shoulders of Willis, who ran 1,600. Willis is hoping to qualify for nationals in two other events, the mile and the 3,000-meter. His time of 7:59.19 at the Michigan Quadrangular and his mile run in 4:04.59 at the Red Simmons Invitational are both provisional qualifying times for Nationals.
The relay catapulted both Ellerton and Waits into NCAAs, but even with this qualifying relay time under their belts, it won’t crush their incentive to keep running hard for the remainder of the season.
“It won’t take the work ethic out of us,” Waits said, agreeing with Ellerton. “I think we’ll all work even harder now.”
Racing in Massachusetts was a great experience for the four.
“There were 4,000 screaming people,” Warhurst said about the sold-out Reggie Lewis Center. “The guys now have an advantage because they will see these same teams again at Nationals.”