While Michigan’s campus and student body was mostly shut down the past few days as students bunkered up in preparation for finals, the women’s track and field team was back in action for a busy week of competition. The Wolverines sent split-squads to compete in the famous Penn and Drake Relays (Des Moines, Iowa) from Thursday through Saturday.
The 119-year-old Penn Relays (Philadelphia) are known as the oldest and longest uninterrupted track competition in the United States. They attract some of the best athletes in the country and the world, ranging from students in middle school to professional runners.
Though unable to compete last year, the Wolverines have made it an almost-annual tradition to participate in the prominent event. Unfortunately, the timing of the relays was not kind to Michigan this year, overlapping directly with finals week.
“This is probably one of the first meets in which the weather was nice, but it ended up seeming to be at the peak of the team’s study and performances,” said Michigan coach James Henry. “It happened to be a time when the kids were not getting as much sleep and rest and trying to do their finals, and it just coincided at a bad time.”
But even with the pressures of both finals week and significant crowds of over 30,000 in attendance at both events, Michigan competed admirably. The Penn Relays included a number of strong performances, highlighted by the Wolverines’ victory in the 1500-meter relay on Friday.
Sophomore Shannon Osika started the race with a strong opening leg to grab an early lead, and was followed by senior Jillian Smith’s steady second leg. But the race ultimately turned for Michigan with senior Rebecca Addison, who ran the team’s best leg, and paved the way for senior Amanda Eccleston, who anchored the relay and finished out the win.
“We had a really good workout Wednesday, so we were really excited,” Addison said. “When I got [the baton] in the lead, I was kind of nervous, but I told myself ‘don’t mess around.’ I wanted to take it out honest and finish in the lead for Amanda.”
The victory represented a return to glory for Michigan in the 1500-meter relay, which the Wolverines won in back-to-back years in 2007 and 2008.
In addition to the 1500-meter relay win, Michigan impressed in a number of other events. Addison and Smith were also on the 4×800-meter relay team that finished fourth out of a field of 38 teams, while Eccleston finished third in the mile run with a time of 4:38.09.
“I thought this was a very productive weekend for us,” said Michigan associate coach Mike McGuire. “This is the World Series of relay meets, and I thought we competed hard and were highly competitive.”
The Penn Relays may get much of the spotlight, but this year only half of the Wolverines actually competed in the event. The other half of the team was at Drake University to compete in another prestigious relay event.
Though the performances overall were not as impressive as those at the Penn Relays, Michigan still had numerous bright spots. One of the most notable results came from a surprising source, freshman Cindy Ofili. Clearly unfazed by the bright spotlight and large crowd, she finished fourth in the 100-meter hurdles after running the best overall time in the qualification round.
“I thought she did an outstanding job, a true freshman, running in front of probably 30,000 people,” Henry said. “She stood up to the competition and did well, about as good as I could expect from a first-year college student.”
Additionally, Erin Pendleton continued her strong senior season in the discus throw, placing fifth, while junior Erin Busbee finished fourth in the long jump with a personal-best jump of 6.08 meters.
“We had some really good performances, but overall we were a little below average,” Henry said. “I’ll treat that as a pass because once we get our rest, our feet up under us, I think we can bounce back.”
Following such an intense week of competition, combined with finals, Henry said he hopes to have the team spend at least the next few days resting and recuperating. But the Wolverines won’t have much of a reprieve in the immediate future, as they will be competing in the Toledo Invitational this Thursday and Friday. It will be Michigan’s final event of the regular season before the Big Ten Championships, which begin May 10.