The biggest meet of his collegiate career is coming up. Twenty of a possible 48 team points are riding on his shoulders. But Junior Nick Willis, of the No. 3 Michigan men’s track and field team, is cooler than a polar bear’s toenails.

“To be honest, I don’t feel any pressure going into this week,” Willis said. “I’m just really excited to go to nationals and be a part of it all again. I’m looking forward to the whole environment, lacing up and getting into the race. It’s my zone.”

The New Zealand native will double up in the mile and 3,000-meter run this weekend at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in Fayetteville, Ark. If he qualifies in the preliminary mile on Friday, Willis will have approximately one hour between the two events on Saturday, but he isn’t sweating it.

“I really don’t have a plan,” Willis said. “Just try to conserve as much energy as possible. (The ideal race) is the one where I can conserve the most energy for the 3,000. I really don’t know what that would entail because, even if it’s a slow pace, it could be just as tiring because the sprint at the end could take a lot out of me.”

It’s possible to win both events in one day — Bernard Lagat of Washington State accomplished the feat in 1999.

“The way the schedule pans out, the mile will be my first priority, and the 3,000 is however I respond,” Willis said. “Obviously, the overall goal is to get as many points as possible, but I’ll have to worry about the mile first.”

Two weeks ago at the Big Ten Championships, fatigue hindered Willis from finishing strong in the mile — Indiana’s Sean Jefferson out-leaned him by a tick. Running the 3,000 and the distance medley relay (DMR) the night before, Willis didn’t have too much time to recover.

“To be honest, I’m not really worried about that race at all,” Willis said. “Back at the Big Ten’s, the mile was a bonus after running pretty hard at the 3,000 the night before.”

Jefferson, Arkansas’s Said Ahmed and Willis are seeded one, two and three in the mile, respectively. Willis is aware of these guys, but he won’t be losing any sleep over them.

“Basically, nobody is good enough to pull away from me,” Willis said. “There are no standout performers, but they’re all solid. I am pretty confident in my abilities, and, as long as I give my very best, I’m going to come out helping the team.”

Last year at the NCAA Indoor Championships, Willis earned All-America honors when he finished runner-up to Arkansas’s Alistair Cragg in the 3,000. Now that Cragg has graduated — and Willis is the No. 1 seed — he is favored to win the event this weekend.

“(Being the favorite) doesn’t bother me at all,” Willis said. “Most of the time I go to these races, I think about being in Europe against the best of the world. And if some of these NCAA guys were there at the same race, they would be the very last thing on my mind.”

Last year, the team took fifth place (28 points) — its second best finish ever at the NCAA indoors. The Wolverines had their highest finish in 1995, when they came in fourth.

Sophomore Stann Waithe, junior Andrew Ellerton, senior Rondell Ruff and senior Nate Brannen will look to post back-to-back titles in the DMR. After clocking a 9:28.12 last weekend in South Bend, the team will be the top seed heading into Friday.

Aside from the DMR, Brannen is slated to compete in the 800-meter and 3000-meter runs.

Michigan is the only team in Trackwire’s top 10 that is registered in less than five events — top contenders Arkansas and Florida have 10 and eight, respectively.

Michigan will have to rely on their cannons — Nate Brannen and Nick Willis — in the hopes that quality will reign supreme over quantity.

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