- Terra Molengraff/Daily
BY ZACH HELFAND
Daily Sports Writer
Published January 17, 2011
To the surprise of many in attendance at the Michigan women’s track and field meet against favored Ohio State on Saturday, the contest was still up for grabs during the final event of the day.
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After a series of four lead changes, the Wolverines trailed 78-75 at "The Dual," but were still in striking distance. The winning team in the 4x400m relay would win the meet.
Fortunately for the Buckeyes, their fate laid in the steady hands of anchor runner and two-time Big Ten Champion Shaniqua McGinnis. McGinnis extended a small lead and coasted across the finish line to give the Buckeyes the victory.
The meet was full of small, pleasant surprises for the Wolverines that nearly catapulted Michigan to a victory.
“Whenever we get into a meet where there’s scoring … we want to win,” Michigan coach James Henry said after the meet. “(Ohio State) knew they would beat us, but I think they got more than what they bargained for. They realized that we sort of stepped up.”
Senior captain Alisha Cole was certainly among that group that exceeded expectations for the Wolverines. She improved upon her pervious best time by .85 seconds in the 400m as she clung to a tiny lead to narrowly edge McGinnis. McGinnis is the two-time defending conference champion in the event.
“It’s early in the year, so it was just exciting for me to run a personal best,” Cole said. “When I came around the last curve I saw (McGinnis), and I was just like, ‘I’ve led this whole race, I have to finish it. Not at the end, I don’t want to lose at the end.’ So I just gave it everything I got.”
Cole’s victory was Michigan’s only first-place finish in a sprint event. The bulk of the team’s scoring came from the distance events, sweeping all four races over 600m.
The team’s success in longer distances was due in large part to the performances of sophomores Jillian Smith and Rebecca Addison. Addison and Smith finished first and second, respectively, in the 800m, with only .08 seconds separating the two. Earlier in the meet, Smith edged out Addison by .11 seconds in a mile race that got physical in the last two laps.
“It was literally a fight, (with) physical fights going on because winning was important,” Henry said.
The two both said they enjoyed racing with each other, even though they haven’t had many chances to do so in the past.
“Because we practice so much together, when I saw Becca move up, I was like, ‘All right, I’m gonna go with her,’ ” Smith said. “It’s kind of unspoken … we just know each other’s moves.”
The team’s most dominant performance came in the 600m race. Junior Brittani Williams crossed first, followed by fellow junior Alex Williams. The nearest competitors were 60 meters away.
Freshman Taylor Pogue won the 3000m run, after a strong kick propelled her into the lead.
In the field events, redshirt freshman Kiley Tobel led a trio of Wolverines atop the leader board in the pole vault, and freshman Erin Busbee turned in a personal best to take the long jump.
The meet — Michigan’s first dual meet since 2002 against Indiana — provided a rare opportunity for the Wolverine runners. Recently, collegiate track and field has moved away from dual meets, as the sport has become more focused on the individual.
“Track and field has been hurting itself by not having scored meets, and it’s nice that Ohio State was willing to have this meet,” Henry said.
For Michigan, the meet provided the team with an early opportunity to rally together.
“A lot of times with track, it’s hard to feel like a team until Big Tens when we’re actually doing a scored meet,” Cole said. “So having the dual, not only is it the rivalry with Ohio State and us, but it’s just getting the team out there to compete together, working for points, just trying to scrape up every point to get a win.”