It all comes down to this. A winter”s worth of running, lifting and training will be deemed worthwhile or wasteful this weekend at the Big Ten Championship in Minneapolis, when the Michigan track and field team will compete at the most important meet of the year.

Paul Wong
The Michigan track and field team will look to leap over the competition at the Big Ten Championship this weekend in Minnesota.<br><br>TOM FELDKAMP/Daily

“We finally realize that this is the year that we can place really high. It”s all a matter of people just showing up and guys have got to compete a little harder because we”re losing points because we”ve got guys hurt,” tri-captain Ike Okenwa said. “The freshmen have been laying it on the line every meet. So, as the upperclassmen, we just have got to step up now and prove to these freshmen that we really do know how to run.”

The exceptional freshman class, along with the development of key seniors, has put the Wolverines in position to make a run at the Big Ten Championship.

The team has been particularly strong in the running events throughout the season.

Okenwa the Michigan record holder in the 60-meter dash indoors and the 200-meter dash outdoors struggled early in the season, but he seems to have turned things around. Last weekend at the Harold Silverston Invitational, Okenwa overwhelmed the competition in both the 60-meter and the 200-meter.

Jeremy Schneider has emerged as Michigan”s dominant middle distance runner this year competing in the 400-meter, 600-meter, 800-meter and 4×400 relay at different meets throughout the season. In Minneapolis, Schneider will attempt to capture the championship in the 600-meter.

“It”s been my dream to win the 600 indoors since freshman year,” Schneider said. “I don”t want to just win, I want to dominate.”

Freshmen Nathan Taylor and Nathan Brennan are both having phenomenal seasons and could contribute points at the Big Ten Championship. Taylor will join Okenwa in the short sprints while Brennan, running the 800-meter, has already qualified provisionally for the NCAA Championships in the 800-meter, 1600-meter and 3000-meter runs.

The team is no longer working on getting stronger or faster in practice this week, but instead it”s working on technique and race preparation.

“We lighten up our mileage and are going to be doing shorter intervals a little quicker than normal. You can”t (get faster) in one day or a week. It takes about two weeks,” coach Ron Warhurst said. “You can lighten them up, but you still have to give them time for their muscles to respond.”

Missing from action will be freshman superstar miler Alan Webb, who has redshirted for the indoor season and will not compete at the Big Ten or NCAA championship. Webb the crown jewel of this year”s No.1 rated freshman class has not yet competed for the Michigan track team.

Webb did run for the cross-country team this fall, winning the Big Ten title. The plan was for him to join track during the middle of the season, but tendonitis in his Achilles tendon has sidelined him until the team moves outdoors.

“He”s not training. He”s only been off for a week, and he was training up to that week. But it was bothering him to the point where we just wanted to clear it up,” Warhurst said.

“We”ll go another week without him running, and then we”ll start getting ready for the outdoor season. Being who he is, as far as his abilities and physical tools, I would think he”ll probably open up sometime in April, but I would expect him to run quite fast then. It all depends on how it responds.”

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