For the Michigan women’s track and field team, spring break didn’t begin with tanning on a beach or backpacking through America’s greatest parks. Instead, it was spent competing in the Big Ten Indoor Track and Field Championship.
While there may be no wonders of the world in Geneva, Ohio — the site of the championships — there is an indoor track facility where the Wolverines closed out their Big Ten indoor season to bittersweet results.
For a few athletes, the weekend’s tournament proved favorable. Two Wolverines claimed Big Ten titles, a relay team set a school record and five athletes advanced to the NCAA Championship.
Fifth-year senior Haley Meier won the mile with a 4:46.05 and punched her ticket to the NCAA Indoor Championship. The race came down to a near-photo finish where Meier narrowly escaped last year’s champion, Madeline Strandemo of Minnesota, edging her out by less than three-quarters of a second.
“This has been a goal for a really long time, and one that I’ve wanted to have since I got to Michigan,” Meier said. “It was really an amazing experience. A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into trying to get there, but I really just owe a lot of that to my coach and especially to Claire (Borchers) and my sister Hannah who also competed with me to get me there.”
Having never been to a national meet to compete as an individual, the competition next weekend will surely be a new experience.
“I’ve been struggling with my mentality before races for a long time,” Meier said. “It’s really taken some time to figure out what works for me before races and no matter what, there’s always going to be nerves, but it’s always so important to let yourself be excited too.”
Senior Claire Kieffer-Wright captured gold in the high jump after a tie-breaking finish and will be joining Meier in College Station for the championship.
“It was really exciting,” Kieffer-Wright said. “I want to, of course, thank my teammates for cheering me on in the sidelines and all my coaches and trainers and my mom for being there for me.”
Kieffer-Wright separated herself from the pack by clearing 1.81 meters on her first attempt, paving the way for her top-place finish.
But though Michigan earned several individual accolades, the team struggled as a whole.
The Wolverines finished eighth of 13 teams despite the individual performances, showing that Michigan still has a lot to improve on going into the outdoor season.
“I thought on one hand our bread and butter was middle-distance and distance,” said Michigan coach James Henry. “They had an outstanding day, an outstanding performance and I thought the area that I was responsible for didn’t bring it the way that I thought that they were going to bring it until the end with the (4×400-meter) relay.”
Henry, who primarily coaches the sprinters, watched his group struggle all weekend, reaching the podium in only one event. The 4×400-meter relay team set a school record of 3:37.88 but finished just fifth in a deep field of runners.
“Everyone’s got to take some responsibility,” Henry said. “There were some kids that didn’t get out there and execute or I didn’t prepare them accordingly. It’s probably a combination of both, so taking responsibility as a coach and an athlete is the biggest step towards solving our mediocre performance.”
Added Kieffer-Wright: “It was good to see that some people are stepping up. I think that if those people who are stepping up can bring one or two people along with them to the outdoor season, I think that will really help our team standings.”