BLOOMINGTON — While good teams perform well when the entire team is healthy, the mark of a great team is how well it performs in the face of adversity.

The Michigan men’s track and field team won two events and finished seventh in the team competition — with a score of 39 points — at the NCAA Mideast Regional this weekend in Bloomington, despite a foot injury to senior Nate Brannen that he suffered two weeks ago at the Big Ten Championships. With five athletes finishing in the top-five to qualify for next month’s NCAA Championships in Sacramento, Michigan will send its largest contingent to the event since 1995.

In the 800-meter run, junior Andrew Ellerton defended his title from last year’s meet with a time of 1:48.79.

“He ran more aggressively today than he has run in the past,” Michigan coach Ron Warhurst said. “It was a smart race, and I’m very happy with him.”

Ellerton was in fifth place after an opening lap of 53.54. As the field moved down the backstretch, Ellerton started his kick and moved into second position behind Auburn’s Sheridan Kirk. Ellerton used his finishing kick to pass Kirk with 20 meters left and held on for the win.

“That gives me confidence going into nationals,” Ellerton said. “I’ll be able to compete against these guys, and it shows that I’m rounding into form.”

Michigan athletes have captured every 800-meter title at the Mideast Regional in the event’s three-year history.

Lightning in the vicinity of the Robert C. Haugh Track and Field Complex on Friday night forced the postponement of the 5,000-meter run until Saturday morning. The delay did not faze sophomore Nick Willis, who captured the victory with a time of 13:54.14 — beating his previous personal best by 20 seconds.

After starting the race toward the back of the field, Willis latched onto the back of the lead pack of six runners and moved to second at the beginning of the bell lap. With 300 meters left in the race, Willis had a brief conversation with Indiana’s Stephen Haas before kicking into a higher gear to beat Haas by 3.78 seconds.

Although he is typically a miler, Willis has found immediate success in the 5,000, winning the only two events he has competed in.

“It was only my second real 5K, so it was a new experience feeling the different pain levels throughout the race,” Willis said.

In the 1,500-meter run, freshman Michael Woods (3:45.92) and junior Rondell Ruff (3:46.90) qualified for their first individual NCAA Championships with fourth and fifth place finishes, respectively, while freshman Victor Gras finished ninth in the finals.

Arkansas’s Adam Perkins and South Alabama’s Harry Larubi went hard from the outset and created a gap of more than 50 meters after the first lap. The trio of Wolverines settled into the back of the chase pack. Woods and Ruff moved to the front of the chase pack at the beginning of the final lap. On the final stretch, the Michigan duo used their finishing bursts to qualify.

“I was really excited to make it,” Woods said. “I think I was more excited to find out that Rondell made it in too.”

After posting two personal bests in the 800 meters and finishing fourth in the event at the Big Ten Championships, Ruff decided to switch to the 1500 meters.

“I was thinking after the race that it was one heck of a gamble I made,” Ruff said.

Luckily for him, Ruff’s gamble paid off, and he will be competing in Sacramento.

In the triple jump, sophomore Michael Whitehead became the first Wolverine field athlete to qualify for the national meet since 1996 with a school outdoor-record jump of 52-7, bettering his previous best by more than 10 inches.

“I took care of business, made it to Sacramento and extended my season for a couple weeks,” Whitehead said.

After failing to score on his first jump and posting a score of 49-11 on his second attempt, Whitehead captured the school record with his third jump.

“I just hoped and prayed that I wouldn’t foul, and I didn’t,” Whitehead said. “When I take off from the board, I know if it’s a good jump or not.”

The five qualified athletes will compete in the national championships in Sacramento beginning on June 8.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.