Although the Michigan men’s track team finished in just sixth place at the Big Ten Championships yesterday, sophomore Nate Brannen felt the team’s performance was still a victory.

“We were very satisfied (with sixth),” Brannen said. “We had a lot of pressure on us since it was the championships. Fifth-place was probably the best we could have done.”

Held in Champaign, the championships dealt Wisconsin the winning hand after the team earned 133 points. Michigan was hoping to beat rival Indiana, but its 61.5 points weren’t enough to trump the Hoosiers’ 67.

Stars of the season Nate Brannen and Nick Willis were the aces in Michigan coach Ron Warhurst’s deck, as both took first in their events.

Willis started off the first day of competition running a not-so-shabby mile in 4:05.48 to earn second for the Wolverines. But it was his 3,000-meter run that was the most exciting race. The sophomore finished in 8:02.00, a provisional qualifying time for the NCAA Championships, but right behind him with 8:02.51 was Wisconsin runner Matt Tegenkamp.

“I had just run the mile so I was a little bit tired,” Willis said. “I stayed in the middle of the pack for the first half of the race. At that point I was 80 meters behind (the leader) and in about eighth place. From there, I just picked off each runner and with 400 meters to go, I caught (Tegenkamp) down the straight-away.”

Willis said he was happy with both results, even though his mile run didn’t yield a win.

Brannen really took off on the second day of competition with his win in the 800-meter run. His time of 1:48.85 was a NCAA automatic qualifying time for the sophomore, but this distance runner has topped it in the past.

“I’ve run it in 1:46.00 before,” Brannen said. “(Although) I was a little bit worried going into this race. (Michigan’s) Rondell Ruff was in the lead for the first half of the race, then I took it from there. No one really challenged me after that.”

Brannen has now qualified for the NCAA Championships in three events. March 14-15, he will be heading to Fayetteville, Ark. to compete in the mile, 800-meter runs, and distance medley relay with Michigan teammates Willis, freshman Andrew Ellerton and sophomore Seth Waits.

Willis will join Brannen in Fayetteville, competing in the 3,000-meter and distance medley relay.

Both said they will be taking it easy over the next two weeks, trying not to push themselves too hard before the championships. However, their version of taking it easy may be a little bit different than the regular Michigan student; Brannen reported that, on average, he runs 70 miles a week.

Other highlights from the weekend include Ellerton’s fourth-place finish in the 600-meter run, sophomore DarNell Talbert’s seventh in the 400-meter, and junior Ryan Hesselink’s ninth in the 5,000-meter.

For Warhurst and the team, the championships were a success. Willis said he hoped that by next year, the team could improve to finish among the top three.

“We had our ups and downs,” Warhurst said, reflecting back on the meet. “But we’re heading in the right direction.”

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