Sometimes, the key to a successful finish is getting off to a strong start.

This rang true this past weekend for the Michigan women’s track and field team as it posted impressive showings in both Palo Alto, Calif. and Atlanta. With the middle- and long-distance runners returning to California after last weekend’s solid performance in Irvine, the remaining team members headed southeast for a different taste of preseason competition.

Even though the location may have changed, the results did not for the Wolverines.

Freshman Katie LaValley and fifth-year senior Stephanie Linz headlined strong finishes for Michigan, hitting qualifying them for regionals.

Linz qualified by posting a season-best 5-8 3/4 in the high jump, taking fifth place overall. LaValley captured second in the 400-meter hurdles (59:88). LaValley, just a freshmen, is impressing coaches and teammates alike with a solid start to her career. A start that was somewhat symbolic to her race on Saturday.

“Katie had a tremendous start to the race,” Michigan coach James Henry said. “In that race, the start is key, and, if you get your step and put yourself in position to be competitive, you got a really good shot at racing well.”

LaValley was not the lone freshman to race well this past weekend. In fact, she was not the only freshman to shine in the 400-meter hurdles. Three other first-year Wolverines finished in the top 10. Amber Hay, Tiffany Ofili and Joi Smith took sixth, eighth and ninth, respectively. With so many young runners stepping up and competing right away, Henry admitted the performances were a little unexpected.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” Henry said. “I was not expecting Katie and some of our younger players to do so well. But as a team, we just ran very well and as everyone gets better, it will get us to where we want to go.”

The results in Atlanta were both surprising and impressive, but the showings of the middle- and long-distance runners in California were less surprising but even more impressive. The Wolverines captured one automatic and one provisional national qualifying time as well as eight automatic regional qualifying times.

Redshirt junior Rebecca Walter, who captured an automatic national bid in the 10,000-meter run, led the way. She took second place with a career-best 33:09:61, nearly two minutes better than her previous career mark of 34:52:82.

The end result was certainly remarkable, but the way in which she captured it may have been even more astounding. Pacing herself from the very start, Walter got stronger as the race progressed, running her second 5,000 meters 21 seconds faster than her first.

Associate head coach Mike McGuire has come to expect great things from his experienced runner but even her race caught him off guard.

“Nothing surprises me with Rebecca,” McGuire said. “But I think her time was faster than we both expected. She just ran the second-fastest 10,000-meter in the nation so far.”

Walter was not the only Wolverine with a performance worthy of the national level.

Fifth-year senior Ana Gjesdal took runner-up in the second heat of the 10,000 meter run with a time of 34:38:41 – 12 seconds better then her previous career-best. The time was good enough for a provisional national qualifier and was yet another step toward the Wolverines’ goal for the season.

With aspirations of lifting another Big Ten Championship trophy at season’s end, the

Wolverine’s start has them headed down that track.

“We had a great meet,” McGuire said. “We came to California to get regional marks early in the season, and we certainly accomplished that today.”

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