To say that Jillian Smith did a fine job representing Michigan at the NCAA Women’s Indoor Track Championships would be an understatement.
To say that she performs well under pressure would be one too.
The eight points Smith collected with her runner-up finish in Saturday’s 800-meter run contributed to Michigan’s final score of 12. And the 17th-ranked Wolverines concluded their two-day competition in College Station, Texas, by finishing 18th in a meet that featured some of the top runners in the country.
Up until the last lap, Smith and sophomore Rebecca Addison were situated towards the end of the eight-runner pack. But on the final straightaway, Smith found one final burst of energy that allowed her to surge ahead from fifth place into second.
Smith used the maneuver on Friday in the preliminary rounds — she understood the importance of keeping her focus while running.
Michigan had runners in two events other than the 800-meter. Senior captain Danielle Tauro was the lone Wolverine competing in the mile run, but her preliminary time was not fast enough to advance her to the finals.
The distance medley relay team, composed of Smith, Tauro, Addison and fifth-year senior captain Alisha Cole, hoped to perform well after winning its eighth consecutive Big Ten title. After placing sixth on Friday evening, the finish was enough to earn all four runners All-American first team honors.
Individual runners and relay teams that score any portion of points for their school at the NCAA championship will earn All-American honors.
This was the third time Tauro received an All-America citation, all three coming from her previous participation in the distance medley relay. For Smith, Addison and Cole, it was the first time they received the recognition.
“They did a nice job,” Michigan coach Mike McGuire said. “Rebecca and Jill both competed really hard having just a few hours to recover from their other mid-distance race. I was proud of them becoming All-Americans. It’s always special when you do that on a relay.”
Most of Michigan’s runners were NCAA veterans coming into the weekend. It was Tauro’s fourth consecutive appearance in the distance medley relay. Smith and Addison ran in the relay last year. Cole was the only one to make her rookie debut at the national level. However, this was the first time any Michigan athlete has made an appearance in an individual event.
The Wolverines didn’t undergo any special training to prepare for some of their competition to date — rather, they relied on the training completed throughout the season to propel them into the national spotlight. Having just completed the Big Ten Championships two weeks prior, Michigan used its time off to fine-tune some of its skills.
“We’re coming off a pretty rigorous conference schedule and at this point in the season, you’re just trying to get people to feel rested,” McGuire said.
While competing in the presence of the nation’s top runners, McGuire noted the key for the Wolverines was the ability to keep nerves under control and have faith in training. He also added how proud he was of Smith and Addison to be able to step up and perform at such a high level as sophomores.
“I think that their best running is ahead of them,” McGuire said. “They have two more opportunities at this indoor stage to move forward. Your goal is to try and be a NCAA individual champion and [they] demonstrated an ability to get there.”
Michigan will now switch gears as it transitions into its outdoor season, while Tauro, Smith, Addison and Cole take a couple weeks off to recover. But the team’s mission is to continue to work hard in order to find its way back into the spotlight sometime in the near future.
“The four that competed here were a big part of what we did this year as a team,” McGuire said. “I want us to get back on a national stage, whether it is this year at outdoors or next year at indoors again.”