Eleven consecutive years — that’s how long the No. 9 Michigan women’s track and field team’s distance medley relay had held the Big Ten Indoor Championship crown before being dethroned last season. This year, the team looks ready to take back the crown.
The Wolverines competed this past weekend at the Alex Wilson Invitational in South Bend, Ind. With the Big Ten Indoor Championship meet next weekend, Michigan held out many of its top athletes.
Notably absent were senior sprinter Cindy Ofili — who holds the fastest time in the nation in the 60-meter hurdles — and junior Erin Finn — who holds the top five times nationally in the 5,000-meter and 3,000-meter races.
“It’s kind of an individual thing (whether or not to run), but sometimes by event area or coaching philosophy,” said assistant coach Mike McGuire. “I think fine-tuning back in Ann Arbor is as productive as going out and running another meet.”
Despite some of Michigan’s best runners being absent, the Wolverines were still able to string together some impressive results, the best of which was in the distance medley relay.
The relay consists of four runners each running a leg of a different length: 1,200 meters, 400 meters, 800 meters and 1,600 meters.
Junior Jaimie Phelan, who was part of the 2014 Big Ten champion distance medley relay, started off the Wolverines and put the relay team in a good position after three laps.
Phelan was followed by another experienced runner in senior sprinter Maya Long, who won a national championship in 2013 while competing on Michigan’s distance medley relay team. Long kept up the lead, and it was becoming clear that the race would come down to a battle between Michigan and Notre Dame.
Third in the pecking order was senior distance runner Danielle Pfeifer, who also won a Big Ten Championship in 2014 as part of the distance medley relay. Pfeifer held up her leg, and after the first three legs, it was still neck and neck between Michigan and Notre Dame.
The final element of the distance medley relay was fifth-year senior distance runner Shannon Osika, who also had won the Big Ten championships in the distance medley relay in previous years. However, the final leg was no breeze, as Osika faced stiff competition in Notre Dame’s Molly Seidel, who won both the NCAA cross country individual championship and NCAA 10,000-meter run in 2015.
Throughout the leg, Osika sat on Seidel until with under a lap remaining, Osika charged ahead to take first place for good.
“I wasn’t at all (worried that Seidel would win),” Pfeifer said. “I know Shannon has put in a lot of work and she is a great competitor, so I knew she has great closing speed. I knew that she would most likely be OK.”
The winning time of 10:58.25 didn’t score the Wolverines any points in this non-scoring meet, but it is good for the third-fastest time in the nation. The top 28 relay times qualify for the national meet, so the relay team is all but assured of qualifying.
The distance medley relay wasn’t the only bright spot on the day for the Wolverines, as redshirt sophomore Corinne Florie won the 3,000-meter run with a personal best time of 9:30.75. Multiple other Michigan athletes set personal records on the day.
With the Big Ten Indoor Championship coming up this weekend, the Wolverines appear to peaking at just the right time, and with the distance medley relay having a great performance in South Bend, the relay could very well be on its way to starting a new streak.