A slow clap began with the P.A. announcer, but slowly circulated around the entire U-M Indoor Track Building. As the clapping sped up, junior pole-vaulter Kiley Tobel took a deep breath. What stood before her was something far bigger than herself. It was beyond first place — she had already secured that. Tobel was looking to extend her school record.
Despite being the first home meet and just the second-overall meet of the season for the Michigan women’s track and field team, nearly everyone was raising the bar at Saturday’s non-scoring Harvey-Simmons Invitational. Thanks in part to rigorous offseason training, the No. 19 Wolverines recorded a number of personal records in all areas as they went on to win 9 of the 15 events against Central Michigan, Detroit Mercy, Eastern Michigan and Bowling Green.
Since Red Simmons founded the Michigan women’s track team in 1976, no female Wolverine pole-vaulter had ever cleared a 13-feet, 11.5-inch bar. Tobel came within half an inch last year, but that was as close as she would come. As the claps turned into an all-out cheer, Tobel took off down the runway. Soon, she was in the air, and contorting her body in hopes of avoiding the bar.
As she fell back down to the ground, the bar wobbled for what seemed like a lifetime before joining her on the landing mat. Tobel had nicked the bar a little too much, and the school record would stay as is.
For now, at least.
Despite not getting her personal- and school-best on Saturday, the junior was very pleased to already be in the hunt.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start the season,” Tobel said. “I’ve been training really hard, but it’s hard to tell exactly where you’re at until you get to the competition. To be going after a personal record as a starting point is huge.”
In addition to Tobel, Michigan coach James Henry thought the rest of the team did a nice job of setting the tone for the season.
“Across the board, I thought my team did really well,” Henry said. “You can never repeat the first impression, and I think we gave a very good first impression (Saturday).”
Among those giving a good first impression was freshman Cindy Ofili. Competing for the Wolverines for just the second time, Ofili took first in the 60-meter dash and third in the 60-meter hurdles.
Not to be outdone, fellow sprinter Amber Smith, earned two personal bests, taking second in the hurdles and first in the dash, both personal records. The finish in the dash was so close, it took several minutes of review to declare the junior the winner over Eastern Michigan sprinter Vanessa Clerveaux.
“I really couldn’t tell,” Smith said. “When I saw her next to me I knew was going to be close so I gave it all I had. That’s all I could do.”
While happy with his team’s performance, Henry believes that for the Wolverines to be truly successful, the fast start must be the first step of a long season, rather than just a highlight.
“We have a long season ahead of us,” said Henry. “But if we can continue to improve and get better as the season goes on, we can’t be disappointed.”
The next opportunity comes this Saturday, as Michigan takes on rival, No. 23 Michigan State, at Grand Valley State. Smith — who along with Tobel and senior distance-runner Rebecca Addison was voted a team captain Friday night — believes a victory is within reach, but won’t be given to them.
“We’re going to have to lead courageously,” Smith said. “We might be running races that we don’t normally run just so we can get the win. People are going to have to step up and step outside their comfort zone to do whatever it takes to win.”