By Benjamin Lawless

For the Daily

“We wanted to qualify for the national championships.”

Michigan men’s track coach Ron Warhurst leaves little to the imagination on the preseason goal for the distance medley relay team, and his ambition has paid off.

Four Michigan runners – sophomores Seth Waits, Nate Brannen, and freshmen Nick Willis and Andrew Ellerton – will be competing in the NCAA Indoor Championships in Fayetteville, Ark. this coming weekend.

While each of the runners excels in his individual event, the focus this weekend will be on the distance medley relay. The medley relay is composed of four legs. Brannen will be running the first leg, a distance of 1,200 meters, followed by Waits in the 400, Ellerton in the 800 and anchored by Willis in the mile.

The chance to win the medley relay has meant personal sacrifice for the miler, as Brannen will not be participating in the individual mile to concentrate on the relay. Brannen will still run in the 800 meters, and Nick Willis will be competing in the 3,000 meters, but as coach Warhurst said, “The focus of the weekend is on the relay.”

Despite having just run this relay together once before, this inexperience does not bother Warhurst. In their one race together, the quartet finished with a qualifying time of 9:35.80 at the Boston Games. According to their coach, though, there is still room for improvement.

“The school record is 9:32, but I think that is in danger,” Warhurst said.

This optimism is certainly not unfounded. All four have run individual times faster than the times they ran during the one relay.

The close bond between Brannen and Willis should also help the team this weekend. Since Willis’ arrival in the fall from his home country of New Zealand, the two have become good friends both on and off the track.

“It’s worked out really well to have another teammate (Willis) who knows what you are going through,” Brannen said.

While both are outstanding in their own right, each has improved as a result of the other’s presence.

“We feed off of each other,” Willis said.

The expectations for this weekend are high.

“There are four or five teams that could win (the relay), and we have to be included among those,” Warhurst said. Besides Michigan, Stanford, Villanova, Arkansas and Eastern Michigan will be in the hunt for first place. While currently ranked seventh in a field of 10, the team’s time is just two seconds out of first place.

Despite the pressure, the runners and coach are confident that they can come away with a victory.

“There is a fine line between cocky and confident, and you have to be confident to do well in this sport,” Brannen said.

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