Michigan men’s track and field coach Fred LaPlante isn’t sure when his team began its countdown for “The Dual” against Ohio State, but he thinks he remembers the number being as high as 120 days at one point.
This Saturday, LaPlante will lead the 17th-ranked Wolverines against the Buckeyes in The Dual at the Indoor Track Building — a meet the team has had circled for months.
Michigan is 20-3 all-time against Ohio State in indoor meets, but LaPlante said this year’s Buckeyes are a very strong team.
“The rivalry type of competition is great, and it’s amazing how athletes just come out of the woodwork,” LaPlante said. “There’s always someone you wouldn’t expect to do something who does really well. It’s about right now, not what you did last year. It’s about right now.”
The Michigan-Ohio State rivalry isn’t new for LaPlante — but the side he roots for is. The first-year Wolverine head coach admits that during his childhood in Toledo, he was “one of those Ohio State people” who loved to hate Michigan.
Dual meets between schools are rare, with only other one on this year’s schedule on April 11 against Ohio State in Columbus. Prior to last year’s revival of the now-annual event, The Dual hadn’t taken place since 1993.
“You have to get that extra inch, you have to make that third jump,” LaPlante said. “Your key is that you can’t allow yourself to mentally break under any circumstances. It’s willpower.”
Given the magnitude of the meet, fifth-year All-America sprinter Dan Harmsen doesn’t expect willpower to be much of an issue for the Wolverines.
He said the members of the team who also play on the football team have expressed great enthusiasm for this weekend after last November’s game in Columbus. The two-sport athletes include sophomore sprinter Troy Woolfolk, redshirt freshman thrower Vince Helmuth, freshman thrower Mike Martin and freshman sprinter Michael Shaw.
“Losing the past four or five years, they have a little more juice in their tank for this meet,” Harmsen said. “The rivalry stems from football, and we’re carrying it onto the track. It’s going to be a hot meet.”
Ohio State makes the trek up to Ann Arbor after winning its first meet, the Rev. Mike Hout Invitational, at Capital University Opener on January 10. Although Michigan won handily 90-72 in last year’s Dual, the Buckeyes took the outdoor matchup 110-93 last April in Columbus.
Senior All-American sprinter Adam Harris won the 60-meter, the 200-meter and the long jump in last year’s indoor Dual victory, but he still feels a chip on his shoulder after the outdoor loss to the Buckeyes.
“We’re not thinking about anything besides this meet,” Harris said. “I’m not thinking about Big Tens or anything yet. We want to get our pennant back.”
The Wolverines aren’t going into the weekend with an entirely healthy lineup. Unable to compete in the Dual due to injuries are senior All-American sprinter Mike Barnes and junior pole vaulter Chris Baldwin. Junior captain Frank Shotwell and redshirt junior Lex Williams are questionable.
But LaPlante said he feels a personnel shuffle tests him more as a coach.
“I loved baseball growing up, so I like the idea of strategy — who’s going to be in your lineup and who’s going to run what events,” LaPlante said. “Maybe some guys are injured and can’t run. You put someone else in.
“But they’re the athletes, and they’re the ones who are going to score.”