It’s amazing what a little competition can do for one’s time on the track.
It was the final baton handoff in the 4×400-meter relay of the Len Paddock Invitational, and by the time Nate Brannen grabbed hold of the baton, he was barely in third place. The sophomore was 90 feet from the second-place runner and even farther from the runner in the lead – normally distances impossible to make up. It’s easy when a runner is in this situation to just give up and accept their position, but Brannen obviously wasn’t ready to accept his. Instead, he flew around the track for the anchor leg of the race as cheers arose from his teammates and the hometown crowd, trying to close the gap between himself and the second place runner. Although Brannen ended the race still in third, he did what many runners would never attempt. In fact, he nearly took second for the relay team with his fast lap of 47.7.
“Nate’s time in the mile relay was very impressive,” Michigan coach Ron Warhurst said. “He almost caught the (second place) guy, but he was coming from about thirty yards behind. That was a great finish for him.”
In addition to Brannen’s speedy time in the relay, he cut a second off his time in the 800-meter run, finishing in 1:49.18. Brannen currently holds the NCAA 800-meter indoor track title and plans to capture the outdoor title in the event as well.
While the team didn’t add any more NCAA regional qualifying times to the 20 they already have, two individuals came close.
Sophomore Nick VanderPloeg was just three inches from qualifying with his discus throw of 164′-9″. The throw was a personal best for the Grand Rapids native and fifteen inches farther than his prior best.
Another standout in the invitational was sophomore Seth Waits. Waits also just missed a qualifying time in the 400-meter hurdles. His finish of 52.88 was fast enough to claim first, but a couple hundredths of a second from the NCAA standard.
But Waits stressed that the race was not a disappointment. The hurdler knows he has another chance next weekend in the Big Ten Championships to improve on his time.
“Coach (Warhurst) and I have been working on getting my steps between the hurdles consistent,” Waits said. “You just can’t be scared of it – it’s a daunting-looking thing with all those hurdles. I mean, it’s a hard race even without the hurdles. You just have to be aggressive and keep your omentum throughout.”
It was questionable if Waits would find his rhythm in this race after he tripped a bit on the first hurdle, but by the end of the race he had taken the lead by a sizeable distance.
Waits also took second in the 400-meter dash, establishing Michigan’s fastest outdoor time in the event this season.
The Wolverines will head to Minneapolis this weekend for the Big Ten Championships. Last year at Big Tens, Michigan finished tenth, so the team looks to progress considerably.
“We’re going to improve,” Warhurst said. “There’s only one way to go and that’s up.”