As its season comes to a close, the Michigan women’s track and field team can’t help but remember where it was a year ago.
It had top athletes who finished out the season on the sidelines after being plagued with injuries.
Its class of 2009, which had not only won NCAA titles, but also stepped up to fill leadership positions, was no longer the backbone of the team.
And it finished its season with a lackluster eighth-place finish in the Big Ten Outdoor Championships.
But the team has vowed not to let history repeat itself.
“(Last year) I think we let ourselves defeat us,” senior captain Danielle Tauro said. “After last outdoor season, we really had just so much built-up anger, we wanted to make sure that it didn’t happen again. We came into this year with a chip on our shoulders.”
Preparation for this year’s Big Ten Championships has not been a week-long, or even season-long process — it started with the conclusion of the 2010 season, when the coaches sat down and took a look at the team. Priorities were assessed to determine the best way to turn Michigan back into a track powerhouse.
“The coaches wanted to make sure all the people on the team were as committed as possible,” Tauro said. “That way, the motivation has been there everyday, it’s been that way since we made the changes and commitments.”
As far as the Wolverines are concerned, the re-evaluations made a world of difference, having transformed them into a visibly different team for 2011.
Michigan defeated its own expectations at this year’s Big Ten Indoor Championships by placing fourth. Sophomore Jillian Smith finished runner-up in the 800-meter run at the NCAA Indoor Championship. Four athletes have garnered a collective five Big Ten Athlete of the Week titles. Nationally-ranked runners have shattered both personal and meet records.
The Wolverines have done their best to stay healthy and paced throughout its long season. Now just one meet and 10 schools stand in the way of them ending their year they way they planned.
Unlike other sports, which have usually competed against other Big Ten schools in the regular season before facing them at the Big Ten Championships, this weekend’s trip to Iowa City will be the first time in the outdoor season that the whole team will face the other conference schools in one location. But Michigan makes full use of available technology to track its competition.
“(There’s) a website where they broadcast places, jumps and throws, and all the different events get tracked online,” Tauro said. “You get a sense of what everyone’s doing out there, and who’s stepping up. It’s helpful.”
Sophomore thrower Erin Pendleton is currently the only Wolverine who is a reigning Big Ten champion — between her and sister, senior Emily Pendleton, Michigan has won the discus at the conference championship for the past three years.
For the seven seniors on the team, this weekend’s meet could mark the last time they compete while wearing maize and blue. Tauro believes the legacy of her senior class is more defined by the change in attitude that have been imperative in boosting team morale than their achievements on the track.
“I think more than anything, we helped bring this team together,” Tauro said. “Track is a very individual sport, and it’s difficult with all the different event groups and coaches to get the team united as a whole.
“We’re paying attention to each other at meets, and hanging out outside of races. I think that helps tremendously to go into meets and experience the momentum of the team, because you need to have a strong support system to feel that energy.”