One hundred and fifty meters before the finish line of her mile race, sophomore Danielle Tauro realized her last chance to capture an indoor NCAA automatic qualifying time this year was quickly slipping away.
Tauro had started the race strong but lost momentum on her fourth of five laps at Saturday’s Alex Wilson Invitational, in which six Wolverines participated in an attempt to get NCAA qualifying times before the Indoor Championships on March 13.
Then, 1,450 meters into the race, Tauro saw Michigan assistant coach Mike McGuire on the upcoming curve. He was pointing to a girl far ahead of her and shouting, “This is 4:39 right here! Go get her!”
When she heard her coach yelling, the sophomore realized that she might be able to finish with an automatic time and, with her second wind, passed five girls in the last lap to finish fifth (4.38.7). The time was a personal best for Tauro, beating her Mar. 1 Big Ten Championships, time (4:44.47) by nearly seven seconds.
But the provisional qualifying time she turned in was seven tenths of a second slower than the automatic qualifying time for the NCAA Indoor Championships.
That means Tauro’s spot is contingent on how many mile runners nationwide have an automatic qualifying time. Each event is capped at a certain number of participants. Once all the automatic qualifiers have a spot, the next fastest runners get spots in the championships.
Last year, her 4:38.7 would have been fast enough to snag a spot in the championship meet. But the field of participants is deeper and the mile has become much more competitive.
Once the results from the rest of the country’s final regular season meets come in this week, Tauro will know if she will be running in her first NCAA Indoor Championships.
“I am biting my fingers waiting for the results of the other meets to come out,” Tauro said. “But either way, it’s exciting to start running these times and knowing that I am in the field now that I can compete with the best in the nation.”
Tauro isn’t the only Wolverine hoping for a little bit of luck. Senior Casey Taylor jumped 13.07 feet in the triple jump to notch an NCAA provisional mark and win the event at the same meet. The automatic qualifying mark for the event is 13.30 feet.
“Casey has been tremendously consistent all year,” McGuire said. “Jumping two centimeters behind her best jump coming off emotions from the conference meet last week was really impressive. It wouldn’t surprise me if she got a bigger mark next week.”
While Tauro and Taylor await the results that determine if they’ll be competing this upcoming weekend, three Wolverines already have guaranteed spots in the championships.
Senior co-captain Tiffany Ofili has the nation’s best time in the 60-meter hurdles, and seniors Geena Gall (800-meter run) and Bettie Wade (pentathlon) are second in the nation in their respective events.
If Tauro and Taylor don’t get in, the highest the Wolverines can score at the championships is 30 points. And if Ofili, Wade and Gall turn in performances consistent with their current national rankings, the three will pick up 26 points for Michigan.
Last year, the Wolverines sent four athletes to the championships and came in third place with 39 points, the highest score in Michigan history in the NCAA Indoor Championships. Arizona State won the with 51 points.
“We have three athletes in a position to win individual national titles,” McGuire said. “So maybe all three of them will win and maybe none of them will win. We recognize they’re in a position to win, but there are other outstanding athletes in their events and that was why it’s the national championships. Obviously, you can’t score without bodies in there.”