The Michigan men’s track team struggled, but junior Zach Ornelas had a weekend to remember in California.

The Wolverines began their 2012 outdoor track campaign at the unscored USC Trojan Invitational in Los Angeles. Ornelas won the 3,000-meter steeplechase by more than six seconds, recording a personal-best in Michigan’s first outdoor meet of the season and earning the only first-place finish for the Wolverines.

“I was just hoping to shake some cobwebs off,” Ornelas said.

Breaking away from the pack early on and finishing with a time of 8:59.57, Ornelas did just that. Michigan coach Fred LaPlante was impressed with the junior’s performance.

“He’s in a good place right now, mentally and physically,” LaPlante said. “His last indoor races were very strong and it carried over into this meet.”

In other events at the invitational, the Wolverines struggled to match up with elite competition, which included perennial powerhouses Texas A&M and USC. Michigan junior Aaron Taylor placed fifth in the 400 meters, while sophomore Ali Arastu stood out with a second-place finish in the 400-meter hurdles. In his career debut, Wolverine freshman Brad Bolton finished fourth in the hammer throw.

The Wolverines took fourth in the 4×400-meter relay, which encouraged senior Nicholas Neuman. He stressed the importance of leadership on the track team, which added 22 new athletes to the roster.

“I’ve been here for four years, and there’s some freshmen where this is their first time,” Neuman said. “If I can help out with the team, I’ll say something.

“I’m pleased with it, considering the circumstances.”

Michigan travelled further than any other school at the meet and faced a three-hour time change. LaPlante understood the difficulty of traveling across the country to compete.

“A little bit of jetlag,” he explained. “And then we’re hitting these West-Coast teams that are ready to go.”

LaPlante, while disappointed with the Wolverines’ results, praised their energy and the experience the Trojan Invitational offered them.

“Our guys executed pretty well and we competed well,” LaPlante said. “We were at USC, it was a really good venue, a nice crowd, and the competition was very good.”

Ornelas was grateful for the opportunity to compete in California. “We’re seeing teams we usually don’t get to race. The team is pretty excited to get back on the map.”

Michigan returns to Ann Arbor hoping to continue to improve before its next competition at the William & Mary Colonial Relays on April 6-7.

“Some of our guys feel like they’re working really hard and they want results right away,” LaPlante said. “The invitational is just a starting point … we came out healthy, got some work done, and it’s a positive experience.”

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