Seniors and co-captains Tiffany Ofili and Geena Gall capped their collegiate careers with a pair of individual NCAA titles this weekend at the NCAA Championships.
The duo will likely be remembered as two of the best athletes in the history of the Michigan women’s track and field team. But the seniors’ relationship started before they ever wore the maize and blue.
As high school seniors, Gall and Ofili were members of the same track club that competed at the 2005 Nike Indoor National Meet in Landover, Md. To get to know one another better, the members of the team asked each others’ goals for the meet. Gall told Ofili that all she wanted was to win.
“This girl is very confident,” Ofili told herself. “Who is this girl? I was really surprised by it because I wasn’t expecting that answer.”
The next day, Ofili watched as Gall earned a second straight national title in the 800-meter run in record-setting fashion.
And this past weekend, the two’s journey caçhed its climax during the NCAA Championships in Fayetteville, Ark.
As Ofili approached the finish line of the 100-meter hurdles final, the usually reserved senior started celebrating with a sizable lead over the rest of the field. The celebration was almost enough to knock the the pink shades off of her face.
The victory marked Ofili’s third NCAA title in the event and fifth overall counting the Ypsilanti native’s wins in the indoor 60-meter hurdles.
Ofili’s efforts were enough to cement her as one of the best athletes in the history of the program. But Michigan’s superstar hurdler first turned heads as just a freshman. In her first year with the Wolverines, Ofili broke school records in both the 60- and 100-meter hurdles.
This season, Ofili has made a name for herself as one of the world’s best in the 100-meter hurdles, her signature event. At the renowned Drake Relays, which hosts some of the world’s top talent, Ofili stood at the start as the only collegian. After the race, she stood as the victor, running past the professional competition and earning Athlete of the Meet accolades.
Ofili’s body of work suggests that she could be considered one of the most dominant athletes ever to wear the block M in any Michigan varsity sport. To win only one national title is difficult, but to win five in a sport where one hundredth of a second often determines the winner is simply unprecedented.
Michigan coach James Henry decided to honor Ofili’s accomplishments by naming an award after her. The Tiffany Ofili Award will be given to any Wolverine who wins an NCAA title, and it’s only fitting that the first recipient of the award was her roommate and teammate since their first meeting in 2005, Gall.
Gall registered her second consecutive 800-meter NCAA crown this weekend in an unfamiliar fashion. The Grand Blanc native took to the front of the pack and crossed the 200-meter mark in a blistering 28 seconds. The Big Ten Athlete of the Year led wire-to-wire, aiming to break the coveted two-minute mark in the event.
“Geena is going to do whatever it takes to win,” Ofili said. “I knew that if it took taking the lead from the beginning to win the race, then Geena was going to do it. I wasn’t surprised by that.”
Michigan has a history of excellent middle-distance runners, and Gall is the recent product of assistant coach Mark McGuire’s instruction. During her first two years at the University, Gall had the luxury of training with Katie Erdman, an eight-time All-American under McGuire.
And with Gall’s career coming to a close, she leaves Ann Arbor with a trophy case filled with 10 All-American honors.
“I knew that if I came here (to Michigan) I would have a great coach in Mike McGuire and a great group of training partners,” Gall said. “This has been the best time of my life, I’ve accomplished a lot and I know that it’s not over yet.”
In two weeks the pair will head to Eugene, Ore., as they compete for spots on the U.S. National team. Their story, which started with two young girls in Landover, Md. could quickly become a story about two world-class athletes, not only competing on the collegiate stage, but the national one.