Sporting T-shirts that said ‘2010 B Team,’ the women’s track and field team entered the Simmons-Harvey Invitational with high hopes for the first home meet of the season. The shirts — covered with bumblebees — read ‘B as one,’ Michigan head coach James Henry’s newest pitch for team unity.
This season, Henry has asked his team to stick together like a swarm of bees, rather than attacking as individuals, in practice and competition. After taking first place in six events and posting strong performances across the board, the Wolverines responded to Henry’s message, making the case that in fact they were an ‘A’ Team.
“We’ve lost all of our ‘queen bees’ and my philosophy is that we’re not going to perform well if just a few people sting,” Henry said. “But if we can get a swarm and stay together, work together, I think that the team can be good enough. Everyone is going to need to contribute.”
The invitational — a non-scoring meet featuring mostly in-state competition — is partly named for Kenneth ‘Red’ Simmons. Simmons, who recently celebrated his 100th birthday, was the first women’s track and field head coach at Michigan. He was in attendance both nights, and said the Wolverines can use their youth to their advantage.
“There is a lot of talent here, and it takes exceptional ability for a freshman to overcome lack of experience,” Simmons said. “But they are a very well recruited group of freshman. They are a very unified group.”
The freshmen showcased their abilities by turning out two first-place performances for the Wolverines. Rebecca Addison took first in the 600-meter run and Kaitlyn Patterson won the 3,000-meter run. The other event winners were redshirt sophomore Allison Liske in the shot-put, junior Jennifer Neville in the 400-meter dash, junior Danielle Tauro in the 1-mile run, and redshirt senior Shana Vinson in the 200-meter dash.
Vinson, recently named one of the team’s three captains, said having good performances at the first home meet is important for the rest of the season. Vinson led by example and ran a new event on Saturday.
“I’m not a 60 runner but I might have to step up and do that if we need it for Big Tens,” Vinson said.
For the first time in Michigan history, the track and field events were held on separate days. The new format allowed the crowd to be more interactive and gave teammates a chance to see each other perform.
Co-captain junior Emily Pendleton was in full support of the new format, saying that it encourages the kind of team unity Henry is looking for this season.
“Its really nice having just the field events on Friday night because we can push all the bleachers up close and the fans can get right in the action,” Pendleton said. “Its nice to have everyone here cheering for you, and it means that tomorrow I can come and watch the runners. I never get to see the runners.”
With the first home meet under its belt, Michigan heads to Kentucky for a two-day event this weekend. The Wolverines who had success at this weekend’s invitational look to build on their performances, as athletes who came up short look for a strong week in practice to rebound. But Henry isn’t worried by younger athletes who may be struggling this early in the season.
“The pleasure I get in coaching is when I see kids struggle, spin, and go nowhere, and then it finally starts to happen,” Henry said. “When it happens, that’s when they start to believe. Part of coaching is getting them to believe; even when they are spinning in place.”