The rainy weather in Iowa City this weekend seemed to mirror the sentiments of the Michigan women’s track and field team as it left the Big Ten Outdoor Championships.
After a surprising fourth-place finish at the Indoor Championships in February, the Wolverines thought they could pull off a repeat performance this weekend
But it wasn’t in the cards for Michigan, which completed its last regular-season meet with a disheartening 10th-place finish.
“We’re going to need to learn from this,” Michigan coach James Henry said. “We can’t get any lower than 10th.”
Sophomore distance runner Rebecca Addison was the sole Wolverine to walk away from the meet with a Big Ten title. Her victory in the 1,500-meter run marked the first outdoor conference title of her career.
Addison’s teammate and training partner, redshirt freshman Jillian Smith, finished third in the same race. The duo put 16 points on the board, the most that Michigan scored in any event throughout the course of the weekend.
A second blow to the weekend was delivered with sophomore Erin Pendleton’s fourth-place finish in the discus. Since 2007, both Erin and her sister, senior Emily Pendleton, have defended the discus title at the Big Ten meets, and Pendleton was hoping to continue the streak for another year.
Despite this, Henry still highlights Pendleton as one of the few athletes who stepped up on the last day of competition.
“We had an average day, other than Rebecca, Jill, Erin, and Julian (Purvis),” Henry said. “Those four were the athletes who performed well and stepped on the gas. After those four, we had a major drop off and were mediocre.
“We can’t have that happen at a championship meet like this. You have to step up or you get stepped on. We got stepped on this weekend.”
Addison and Pendleton were the only Wolverines to score points in more than one event, with Addison also competing in the 800-meter run and Pendleton in the hammer throw and shot put.
In addition, junior Julian Purvis broke a personal record in the 100-meter hurdles to take home fifth for the second year in a row.
But even those scores weren’t enough to catch Michigan up to rival Ohio State. The Buckeyes won their first outdoor conference title, finishing 86 points above the Wolverines.
One of the biggest challenges Michigan has faced is the amount of youth and inexperience on the team. While this year’s seven seniors won’t get a chance to redeem themselves next season, this weekend served as a valuable learning experience for the underclassmen.
“To know what’s out there, especially with a young group of girls, is an eye-opening experience,” senior captain Danielle Tauro said. “I think we needed to see it, and now people now what the expectation is. Hopefully next year they’ll be able to step up more.”
And although it’s easy to blame inclement weather as a detrimental factor in track meets, Henry insists it had no effect on the team’s performance.
“The other nine teams competed in the weather just like we had to,” Henry said. “Other teams did not get people through based on the weather, just like we did not. It balances out in the end because we’re all dealing with it.”
Michigan now finds itself in an all-too-familiar situation. The Wolverines came into the 2011 season with a chip on their shoulder after an eighth-place finish at last year’s Big Ten Championships. The coaches and athletes thought they had a firmer grasp on this season after seeing major advancements as the months went on.
“I was ready for us to take that step (and improve from last year) and finish fourth or fifth, in the middle tier,” Henry said. “We need to get back to the drawing board and get to work and improve. This is not where we expect to be.”
Now all Michigan can do is wait for next year. With the end of a season comes a new opportunity to start fresh again.
In the meantime, the team has already started thinking about ways in which they can improve.
“You’re always pushing yourself to get better and improve, but at the same time, you’re taking risks and walking the tightrope between injury and excellence,” Tauro said. “Everyone has to give it their all, and see the big picture, and that every meet is a building block for Big Tens.”
The Wolverines now have two weeks to prepare for the NCAA East Preliminary Round at Indiana, where the team will be competing for spots at the NCAA Championship meet in June.