It’s not everyday you run into someone on campus who can legitimately say he is “from a land down under.” And while he’s not a member of the band Men at Work, freshman runner Nick Willis certainly can make that claim.

Willis, who hails from Lower Hutt, New Zealand, has made his presence felt since arriving in Ann Arbor. Despite moving halfway across the world, Willis was an All-American in cross country this past fall, finishing 21st overall in the NCAA championship meet despite having very little experience with cross country before coming to Michigan. He helped the Wolverines to a surprising eighth-place team finish.

“He was a little surprised at how well he did at cross country,” said Michigan coach Ron Warhurst.

During the winter’s indoor track season, Willis continued to improve and was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year – no small accomplishment in a conference with so much young talent. He was also a member of the distance medley relay, which finished third at the NCAA Indoor Championships.

Willis has had to make some adjustments this year, both to his training regiment and to the events he runs.

“My mileage has increased a lot,” Willis said. “Before, I ran about 70 kilometers a week; I run 70 miles a week here. The workouts have been a lot more distance oriented.”

With so much depth at his usual event, the 800 meters, Willis has switched to the 1,500- and the 3,000-meter runs.

In an individual sport, Willis put his team ahead of himself.

“That is just the way the team worked out. We need the points,” Willis said.

His talent on the track and unselfish leadership off it have made Willis an invaluable part of the team.

“I wouldn’t trade him for anyone in the country,” Warhurst said. “He gets along tremendously with the guys on the team and treats everyone as an equal. Just because a guy can’t run a sub-four-minute mile doesn’t mean he won’t talk to them.”

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