He’s fast, he’s dedicated, he’s poised and he was just named the Big Ten men’s co-Athlete of the Week.
Nick Willis, Michigan’s sophomore standout from New Zealand, has been stomping the competition this season, and tomorrow he will lead the twelfth-ranked Wolverines into Cedar Falls, Iowa for the NCAA Pre-National race.
Despite his youth, Willis is one of the best runners in the country. Last season, as a freshman, Willis left competition in the dust, earning All-American honors by placing 28th at NCAA Championships.
On top of that, he finished sixth at the Big Ten Championships and had seven top-10 finishes in nine races last year.
“He is an amazing person and an amazing athlete,” coach Ron Warhurst said. “He is also very mature and down to earth.”
Willis’ devotion and love for the sport shines through his personality. He can be seen sitting off to the side before practice and stretching by himself. As he excitedly talks in his Kiwi accent, it is obvious that Willis has been looking forward to running all day.
Willis takes running seriously and shows a slight sense of confidence overshadowed by overwhelming modesty. For him, it’s just about running hard – nothing else matters.
“Running is all in your head,” Willis said. “One time I forgot my spikes and had to borrow somebody else’s. You need to forget about all that and just run hard.”
This weekend’s race will be a benchmark for Willis this season, as he looks ahead to the National Championship race.
“I’m not sure how it will shape up,” Willis said. “I always aim for the win but if I finish fifteenth I’ll still be happy.”
Willis is just hoping to run with the best competition tomorrow and pull it together in the end to run the best 8,000 meters he can.
Intense training, including 75-80 miles of running per week, 7:30 a.m. practices and 16-mile run on Sunday has prepared Willis and the Wolverines for pre-Nationals.
“We are training hard for the season, but we can’t ease up,” Willis said.
The Wolverines, who have finished fourth, second and first in three races this season, are on track to compete for a national championship. Willis will be a major factor in the team’s success.
The course for this Saturday’s race is the same course used for the actual championship race in November.
The field includes 74 teams, and will be split up into two races. Last year’s results show that this race is a preview to the national race, as Michigan placed sixth in pre-Nationals and eighth in Nationals last season.
“This race is a chance for teams to test themselves against top schools in the nation,” Willis said.
The main opponent for the Wolverines this weekend will be No. 1 Stanford.
Michigan is looking for a top-five finish this weekend, which could possibly slide the Wolverines back into a top-10 spot in the national rankings.
“This is a very important race for us to find out how we stack up,” Warhust said.
Nate Brannen, the 2002 Michigan male athlete of the year, was reinstated into the lineup for this weekend’s race. He has been out due to slight anemia. The addition of Brannen will bring another All-American to the team for this big race.
“Willis and Brannen compliment each other very well and motivate the whole team,” Warhurst said.
With all the parts in place, Michigan is looking forward to excelling at pre-National competition at Iowa and moving up in the rankings.
Nick Willis, as usual, is just looking forward to running hard.