Perhaps the best insight into an athlete’s character can
be seen in how he deals with failure. At times the competitor can
fall into a funk, a seemingly never-ending downward spiral. It
happens with batting slumps in baseball, with poor shooting in
basketball and certainly with a string of subpar marks in running
and jumping in track and field.

Beth Dykstra
Nathan Taylor matched his personal-best time in the 60-meter dash, but fell short of the NCAA provisional time. (RYAN WEINER/Daily)

During this weekend’s Alex Wilson Invitational at Notre
Dame, five Michigan athletes participated in what is known as a
“last-chance meet.” Taking place during the final
weekend before the NCAA Championships, it was a last shot to
qualify for a trip to Fayetteville, Ark. But, only one athlete
could match his previous high, and every Wolverine fell short of a
provisional or automatic marks.

Fortunately for Michigan, the general mindset of the team is
converting the pain of failure to motivation for future
performances.

“This meet was sort of ‘If you did it, great,’
” Michigan junior Rondell Ruff said. “If not, we still
have outdoors.”

All five athletes came close to their goals, including junior
Nathan Taylor, who matched his best time in the 60-meter dash but
fell a mere .04 seconds short of the NCAA provisional qualifying
standard.

Ruff also came within a second of reaching the provisional mark
in the 800-meter run. Michigan already has two qualifiers in the
800-meter run — Junior Nate Brannen, the defending NCAA
champion, and sophomore Andrew Ellerton. Ruff made a significant
jump during last year’s outdoor season, from 1:52.74 to
1:50.99, a jump he thinks he can repeat.

“It’s likely I’ll repeat that change,”
Ruff said. “Maybe even at a greater distance. I’d like
to be under 1:50.”

A similar jump this year could put him in good shape for the
regional qualifying meet.

Freshman Jeff Porter, a newly crowned Big Ten champion, already
earned a provisional qualifying time in the 60-meter hurdles, but
went to Notre Dame in hopes of reaching the automatic standard.
Though he couldn’t match his time of a week ago, he was still
faster than the provisional standard. With his time at the Big Ten
championship, Porter is sitting in a six-way tie for 16th place
nationally, hoping to be one of the 18 who earn a trip to the
national championships.

In the field events, Michigan also had two competitors trying to
qualify for the championship. Junior Darren Adams jumped 6 feet 8
inches in the high jump, three inches less than he did in the Big
Ten championship. After steadily improving through the indoor
season, Adams appears in good shape for the upcoming outdoor
season.

Freshman Michael Whitehead jumped to a third- place finish in
the Big Ten Championships last week, but this week he jumped six
inches shorter. Whitehead missed the provisional standard, but this
disappointment will serve as motivation for him, just as it has in
the past. When looking back at the beginning of his triple jumping
career, Whitehead describes himself as “unathletic” and
“garbage.” Finishing last week after week frustrated
him and drove him from the bottom of the pile to second in the
nation during his senior year of high school. Disappointment over
missing this year’s indoor championship will inspire
Whitehead to aim for school records that he believes are within his
reach.

“My freshman year of high school, I wasn’t any good
at all,” Whitehead said. “ I’m not bent on the
fact that there are people who will jump farther than me. I will
catch them.”

Whitehead has his sights set on winning the outdoor Big Ten
Championship.

Although Whitehead and his teammates struggled to reach their
marks this weekend, they have two weeks to regroup before the
Florida State Relays in Tallahassee, Fla. The relay meet will mark
the start of the outdoor season.

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