FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — When sophomore Nick Willis blew by
Arkansas’s Mike Taylor with 200 meters to go in the distance
medley relay, he hushed the Arkansas crowd. And the Michigan
faithful in attendance let everyone know who was the national
champion.

In a world-record time of 9:27.77, the distance medley relay
destroyed the world-class field at the Randall Tyson Fieldhouse,
guiding Michigan to a fifth-place finish at the NCAA Indoor
Championships.

Junior Nate Brannen gave the Wolverines the lead during his
1,200-meter leg of the race, handing off to junior DarNell Talbert
with a 15-meter lead. Talbert held his own during the 400-meter
leg, but allowed Arkansas to take a five-meter lead going into the
third leg. Sophomore Andrew Ellerton stayed stride for stride with
Arkansas’ James Hatch for 700 meters, and not allowing Hatch
to get more than 10 meters ahead. When Willis received the baton,
every Wolverine fan in the house was screaming as hard as they
could, even though a sense of relief fell over them. Willis has the
fastest collegiate time in the mile this season, and only 1,600
meters separated him and his teammates from the national title. He
sat on the heels of the Razorbacks’ final runner for 1,400
meters, running completely relaxed.

When the bell rang for the final lap, Willis took off. He flew
past the Blue faithful on the backstretch and pointed the baton in
their direction to thank them, before taking home the title and
running a victory lap afterwards.

“It’s what we came here to do — it was our
focus the entire season.” Ellerton said. “I just kept
us in the race, and Willis finished the job for us.”

The parents, athletes and coaches who were there could not hold
back when their men came to the stands to thank them.
Talbert’s mother, father and brother smothered him, crying
tears of happiness and pride. It was Warren Talbert’s first
time seeing his son race while wearing a Michigan uniform, and the
experience left him speechless.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better time to see
him,” Warren said. “Just watching him run was amazing.
I just could not be prouder of him.”

And that was just Friday

On Saturday, Willis and Brannen both worked towards individual
titles.

Given the chance to repeat as national champion in the 800
meters, Brannen cashed in with a time of 1:47.61. He cruised
through the preliminaries on Friday and stood at the starting line,
thinking to himself that the race was his to lose.

He sat in the field for the first 600 meters, and with one final
lap, he proved once again that he was the strongest runner on the
track. He pushed to the front of the pack and finally pulled away
to take home the win.

Willis’s road wasn’t as easy.

The sophomore had previously set the national record in the
3,000-meter until Alistair Cragg of Arkansas broke it just two
weeks later.

Cragg won the 5,000-meter on Friday by a landslide, and the
crowd was ready for the showdown in the shorter distance race.

Willis and Cragg sat at the back of the pack for the first 1,400
meters. Then, Cragg made a surge and Willis followed suit.

With every lap, the two distanced themselves from the field.

With only 200 meters to go, the crowd was ready for
Willis’s kick, but Cragg managed to hold him off for the
win.

“In my race I realized how big the occasion was, and how
much (the team) needed the points,” Willis said. “I
gave him everything I could, and I’m really proud of
that.”

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