May 10, 2017
Fri-Sun., May 12-14 -- at Big Ten Outdoor Championships (State College, Pa.), Noon/10:15 a.m./1:30 p.m.
The defense of the University of Michigan women's track and field team's Big Ten Outdoor Championships co-team title from a year ago officially begins this weekend as the Wolverines travel to Penn State for the 2017 edition of the conference meet on Friday through Sunday (May 12-14).
With several national contenders leading a deep distance squad and a young corps of contributors throughout the sprints, jumps and throws, Michigan enters the weekend with its eyes set on replicating as much of the success as possible from the 2016 edition of the squad.
"I always want our kids to give their very best, I always want our kids to do their very best, and I always want our kids to be their very best. In the end, we can call it success," women's head coach James Henry said. "Sometimes you can do your very best, and it doesn't get the job done, but you can still say that the kids went out and the gave their very best. We want the kids to have a good time, we want them to enjoy it, we want them to be competitive, and we want them to come away saying, 'I gave everything I had,' and we let the end results take care of themselves."
Between graduation and injuries, the Wolverines return seven student-athletes who scored a combined 46 points of the total 106 posted by last year's title-winning team.
Among those returning is reigning 5,000- and 10,000-meter champion Gina Sereno, an All-American who arrives in State College on a three-race winning streak this outdoor season. Fellow returning scorers Claire Borchers, Jaimie Phelan, Sarah Zieve, Claire Kieffer-Wright, Aaron Howell and Gina McNamara -- along with several other Wolverines who have emerged as top-tier contributors in 2017 -- will play pivotal roles in mounting a team title defense.
Fans can follow all the action from Penn State via live results at Primetime Timing, and the Big Ten Network will provide a BTN2Go live stream of Saturday's field event finals and all the action on Sunday.
Action at Penn State's Nittany Lion Outdoor Track begins Friday at noon with the hammer throw final, followed by a 10:15 a.m. start on Saturday and a 1:30 p.m. start on Sunday. Friday and Saturday's events on the track will largely be preliminary rounds -- with a distance event final to conclude each day -- followed up by a day of finals-only track action on Sunday.
Field event finals will be contested all three days, with the heptathlon scheduled for Friday and Saturday.
Event champions in each final earn 10 points for their teams, with points allocated to each finisher and their respective teams through eighth place (10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1).
The team with the most points at the end of the meet -- which is composed of 10 individual track events, two relays and nine field events -- will be crowned the Big Ten champion.
THE KEY PERFORMERS
The Wolverines return 46 of the 106 points they scored as the conference runners-up a year ago, including the 20 scored by Sereno as the winner at both 5,000 and 10,000 meters. Phelan posted a runner-up finish at 1,500 meters en route to first team All-America honors later in the season, while both high jumper Kieffer-Wright and heptathlete Howell finished third.
Sereno took the Big Ten by surprise a year ago when she swept the 5,000- and 10,000-meter crowns -- seeded 10th in the former and entering without a mark in the latter -- but she will not be sneaking up on anyone this year. Already this year, she has clocked 15:49.17 over 5,000 meters for a 15-second career best and has also set PRs in the 1,500 and the outdoor 3,000, emerging victorious in all three races. She is seeded second in the 5,000 this year and once again enters without a mark in the 10,000. Based on her undefeated outdoor season thus far, a very strong performance to contend for the win and qualify for the NCAA East Prelims should be expected.
As impressive as Sereno's outdoor season has been -- not to mention her indoor campaign with a Big Ten 3,000-meter title and a pair of All-America honors -- she is not even the highest-ranked Wolverine in the national standings. That honor belongs to Borchers, who is ranked seventh in the country and second in the Big Ten in the steeplechase at 10:02.77. After finishing fifth in this event a year ago at Big Tens, Borchers is ready to now contend for the title and attempt to become just the second Wolverine in program history to crack the 10-minute barrier in the steeplechase.
Sarah Zieve also scored in that steeplechase final a year ago with an eighth-place finish. Zieve herself is ranked No. 4 in the Big Ten and 32nd nationally in the event after a career-best 10:15.82 run at the Penn Relays that moved her up to No. 6 on the all-time Michigan performers list in the event.
A year after finishing as the runner-up at 1,500 meters and continuing on to earn first team All-America honors in the event, Phelan is set to double her workload for the 2017 championships. Not only will she be competing at 1,500 meters -- an event in which she is ranked No. 2 in the Big Ten and No. 33 nationally -- she will also spike up for the 800 where she is ranked eighth in the conference. Though she has primarily focused on the 1,500 at Big Ten outdoors during her career, she was the conference runner-up in the event indoors in 2014.
Phelan will be joined in both events by Jamie Morrissey to give the Wolverines a formidable 1-2 punch in the mid-distances. Morrissey has lowered her 1,500-meter PR by 15 seconds to 4:18.28 to check in at No. 3 in the conference and No. 39 in the nation and has also clocked an outdoor PR of 2:06.63 at 800 meters to enter the weekend ranked sixth at that distance.
Leading the way in the field events are the duo of Kieffer-Wright and Howell, both of whom finished third a year ago in their respective high jump and heptathlon events. Kieffer-Wright is in good position to once again score big points for the Wolverines as the eighth-ranked jumper in the conference this year, though Howell was forced to withdraw from her lone heptathlon this season. Indoors, she finished fourth in the pentathlon.
Several freshmen will be called upon to help in the title defense push. The highest ranked is Courtney Jacobsen in the hammer throw, where she is already a little more than a meter shy of the school record in the event and ranked eighth in the conference.
While she is not currently ranked top-10 in the league, it would be unwise to discount the chances of sprinter Jade Harrison, who twice at the Big Ten Indoor Championships this winter broke the indoor 400-meter school record before going on to earn first team All-America honors on the distance medley relay team. She has run 53.88 in the quarter-mile this spring and could be on track for another big breakout at the outdoor conference meet. As just a freshman, she is already just the third woman in Michigan history to run sub-54 at 400 meters and post wind-legal performances of sub-12.00 and sub-24.00 at 100 and 200 meters.
WOLVERINES IN THE RANKINGS
University of Michigan distance running leads the charge into the postseason with numerous women ranked top-50 in the nation. Here is the full list:
|Claire Kieffer-Wright||High Jump||#33|
The Wolverines are in position to send a big contingent to the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds May 25-27 in Lexington, Kentucky, in hopes of qualifying to June's NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Oregon. Eleven performances are currently ranked in the top-48 in the East Region, which is the cut-off to make the meet, with another just outside the cutoff. The top 12 finishers in each event at the Prelims advance to Eugene.
|Claire Kieffer-Wright||High Jump||#18|
Tweet of the Week
-- Michigan Track&Field (@UMichTrack) May 9, 2017
Communications Contact: Kyle Terwillegar