On the heels of a dominating team performance in the 1,500-meter run, the Michigan women’s track and field team placed fourth in the Big Ten Outdoor Championships at Ohio State’s Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium over the weekend. The Wolverines, who improved on their seventh place finish last year, finished with a team score of 82 points, trailing first place Penn State with 133 points.
Heading into the Big Ten Championships, fifth-year senior Amanda Eccleston had already made quite an impression on the Wolverines in her final year of eligibility — yet her first at Michigan. She had already captured the indoor mile crown to cap off the indoor season, and followed that up by defending her title in the outdoor season with a first-place finish in the 1,500 meter run, crossing the line in 4:20.75. Eccleston, who transferred from Hillsdale College, earned first team all-Big Ten honors as a result of her performance.
“It’s very exciting to come and defend my title in the next season,” Eccleston said. “It’s great to show that I’ve been training well and that my season has been going great, and it’s very encouraging to have performed that well today. I always hear about the Big Ten and how prestigious of a conference it is, so to be able to come in this first year and perform at that level really meant a lot to me.”
Eccleston wasn’t alone on the podium, as fellow Wolverines senior Rebecca Addison, sophomore Shannon Osika and redshirt junior Jillian Smith finished 3-4-5 to complement Eccleston’s victory. The quartet earned 25 combined points from the race alone — a driving force behind their overall fourth place finish.
“We were hoping that the four of us could do as well as possible as a group, which is what happened,” Eccleston said. “We really went out there trying to work together and just score as many points as possible for the team. To me, that was one of our big events getting four people to the final.”
The Wolverines’ strong team performance in the 1,500-meter run catapulted them from the middle of the pack into the top three, which they held for most of the final day of competition until Ohio State passed them on the final event. The fourth place finish was still Michigan’s best showing since 2009, when they finished second.
“Between day two and three we talked about every point counting,” said Michigan coach James Henry. “We knew we could be second and we could be eighth all in a 10 or 12-point range, and it turned out that we were somewhere in the middle with third place slipping away at the end.”
Another Wolverine in her first year with the team, freshman Cindy Ofili, had a strong showing thanks to a pair of top three finishes on a busy final day of competition. She began by running the second leg on the 400-meter relay team that finished in third place with a time of 45.90.
“That race felt really good; we all did our part and we all got out really well,” Ofili said. “Me and my teammates had some really good handoffs, and we were just really happy that we could get more points for our team overall.”
But Ofili wasn’t done yet, as less than an hour later she went out and finished third in the 100 meter hurdles, running a personal-best time of 13.30.
“I got pushed throughout the race, which was pretty good for me in terms of my time,” Ofili said. “Overall, I was just happy I went out and competed well. I’m excited because I still have the regional meets to go to and hopefully nationals from there, and I’m happy to help my team out any way I can.”
While Michigan found success in multiple events on the track, the team’s well-rounded performance extended to the field events as well, where a pair of Wolverines set personal best marks in dueling second place finishes. Junior Erin Busbee set a personal record in the long jump, finishing second with a mark of 6.13 meters, while senior Sara Nitz finished runner-up in the high jump with a personal-best mark of 1.74 meters.
Inclement weather wreaked havoc on the event all weekend, as lightning and heavy rain forced the postponement of numerous events from Friday to Saturday and wind speeds reached double digits at several points throughout the event.
One of the postponed events, the pole vault, featured a second-place finish by senior Kiley Tobel. The school record holder in both the indoor and outdoor pole vault, Tobel attempted what would have been a new school record of 4.26 meters but was unable to complete it successfully, leaving her with a final height of 4.07 meters. Nonetheless, both Tobel and Busbee earned second team all-Big Ten accolades for their strong performances in the field.
With the team portion of the indoor season now complete, select individuals will move on to compete in the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds May 23-25 in Greensboro, N.C.