You would think that winning an NCAA Championship or breaking an
NCAA record would make a runner superhuman in his teammates’
eyes. Seeing that no one in the country can compete with him would
make it hard for teammates to push him, possibly alienating that
athlete, putting him on a pedestal. The Michigan men’s track
and field team has been blessed with two such champions, junior
Nate Brannen and sophomore Nick Willis, but neither runner keeps
his personal focus to himself.

“(Brannen and Willis) are very team-oriented,”
Michigan coach Ron Warhurst said. “Their number one goal for
this year is to win the national championship in the distance
medley.”

At this weekend’s Sykes-Sabok Challenge Cup in State
College, four Wolverines will have their first chance to be a part
of a potential championship Distance Medley Relay team. Brannen
will lead off with the 1200-meter leg, freshman Stann Waithe will
continue with a 400-meter dash, sophomore Andrew Ellerton will take
care of the 800-meter third leg and Willis will anchor with a mile
run.

This relay consists of four of the more talented runners in
Michigan history, who could potentially run several seconds faster
than last year’s NCAA champions — Villanova — who
ran 9:29.12. Michigan finished third with a time of 9:29.76. With
an extra year of experience, an NCAA championship is not out of
reach. Wolverine fans should not, however, be disappointed if this
weekend’s race is not up to those standards.

“(Qualifying for NCAA Championships) is all we want to
do,” Warhurst said. “We don’t need to try and run
under 9:30 yet, but we will. We will at the Nationals.”

The NCAA automatic qualifying standard is 9:35, certainly a
tangible goal for the Wolverines.

Any college track fan is familiar with Brannen and Willis, but
the lesser known Ellerton and Waithe will be the key to
Michigan’s success. Waithe had a breakout race in last
weekend’s 4 x 400-meter relay, running an impressive 46.2.
Being buried in a relay has kept him a relative unknown to most of
the track world.

“(Waithe) is an unknown quantity,” Warhurst said.
“Last week he ran a 46.2, which makes him a known quantity to
us and nobody else.”

The pressure on Waithe will be greater in the distance medley.
With recent success, the relay has become somewhat of the
cornerstone of Michigan’s distance program. Warhurst is
optimistic, but far from certain that Waithe will perform like he
did last weekend.

“He’s a real loosey-goosey type of guy,”
Warhurst said. “That’s the way (freshmen) come. He did
well in high school. He ran against some big time quarter-milers
and was not intimidated by them, so I can’t imagine he will
be now. (After Brannen’s lead-off) he’ll be chased, he
won’t be doing the chasing.”

Ellerton will be trying to bounce back from a disappointing
performance in the distance medley relay at the Boston Indoor Games
two weekends ago. This particular race — the 800-meter leg
— should be better for him. In Boston he was out of his
element, running the mile.

“He’s back in his own backyard in the
800-meters,” Warhurst said. “We’ve had really
good practices the last couple of weeks. This is his domain, and he
came back and ran 47.7 in the mile relay at (Last weekend’s
Meyo Invitational).”

The distance medley relay will not be Ellerton’s only
focus — on Saturday he will try to qualify for the NCAA
championships in the 800-meter run. Last spring, Ellerton was a
mere .02 seconds from qualifying for the outdoor championships in
the 800-meter run. Though he achieved All-American status with last
year’s distance medley, he will undoubtedly be aiming for an
individual berth in the meet. Brannen will also run the 800-meters,
in hopes of automatic qualification to the championships, where he
won the 800-meter run last winter.

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