Unlike many sports, a track and field meet is often over a two-day period. This can mean two different mentalities and two different outcomes.
This weekend at the Big Ten Indoor Championship, MSU track and field played with these changing mentalities. The women finished in seventh and the men not far behind in eighth place. The team earned nine medals total and broke seven school records.
“When you’re talking about a championship meet, you need both days to go well,” head coach Walt Drenth said.
The weekend consisted of a mix of highs and lows, seeing not only multiple team medals, but also some athletes miss qualifying for finals.
In an impressive fashion, Antonio James earned his second career gold medal in the shot put with a mark of 19.93m/65-4 ¾. He broke both a SPIRE Institute record and his own school record by nearly a foot.
In the 3,000-meter, Caleb Rhynard earned a bronze with a time of 7:53.34, breaking a school record. On Saturday, he did it again in the 5,000-meter, earning a fifth-place finish and breaking his own school record with a time of 13:53.
Stepping up to the competition in her first 3,000-meter conference race, Rachele Schulist crossed the finish line in third to win a bronze medal with a time of 9:17.43.
Tim Ehrhardt, another first-time athlete at the Championship, earned a silver medal in the pole-vault with 5.21m/17-1.
The women’s distance group continued their success from a few weekends ago by earning silver in the distance medley. The team of Erin Billette, Alicia Evens, Aubrey Wilberding and Leah O’Connor finished with a school record-setting time of 11:13.82.
O’Connor, who on Saturday, won her mile race in 4:34, anchored the team. Walking away with a gold, she not only broke a school record, but broke a conference record as well.
“The history of distance running in the Big Ten conference is as storied as any conference in the country,” Drenth said. “And that’s quite an accomplishment and the manner in which she did it was amazing.”
Tori Franklin was the image of adversity for MSU this weekend, competing in three different events. On Saturday, Franklin appeared to transition with ease. Within a 45-minute time span she competed and won the women’s triple jump event with 13.56m, earned a fifth-place finish in the 200 meter dash with 23:85 and anchored the women’s 4×400 meter relay which finished in sixth.
Franklin’s triple jump mark not only broke a MSU record, but also a conference record.
Speaking of both Franklin and O’Connor, Drenth could not say enough good things, concluding, “Those two people have really developed into leaders and are going to help us develop our program.”
Not qualifying in the preliminaries for the women’s 800-meter run was Aubrey Wilberding, who clocked in a record-setting time of 2:06 at the SPIRE Invitational two weekends ago.
“I think some of our kids were capable of making finals that didn’t make finals. And that is the part that we need to clean up,” Drenth said.
In the long jump, Ashley Stacey wasn’t able to qualify for the finals. Yet on Saturday she was able to come back from disappointment and earn a top-10 spot in the triple jump finals.
Still trying to regain their old sense of competition, the women’s sprinter group wasn’t able to qualify for the 400×4 meter relay or some individual events.
“There were a few events where we didn’t perform like I thought we would perform,” Drenth said. “You can’t do better than they are.”
But while there were areas that still need to be improved, shown by the nine medals and countless school records broken, the Spartans have something to be proud of.
“That is what makes those school records so remarkable,” Drenth said. “Typically, if you just do what you normally do, you have success in this meet. Typically, those school records, you see those in the middle of the season because we spread those people thin (at the Championship), but they really just rose to the occasion and the competition.”
Kurt Schneider finished off his two days of heptathlon competition with 5,738 points, earning him a bronze and breaking an age-old school record.
While the team doesn’t know for sure who is advancing to the 2014 NCAA Track and Field Indoor Championship, it is predicted that Leah O’Connor, Tori Franklin, Antonio James and Kurt Schneider will make the trip to Albuquerque, N.M. in two weeks. There is also a possibility that distance runners Rachele Schulist and Caleb Rhynard will attend.
“The conference as a whole is challenging. It’s a tremendous track and field conference,” Drenth said. “The meet was phenomenal; the energy in the building was great. Everyone is challenged at every turn in this conference. You sign up to compete at Michigan State to compete in a conference like the Big Ten championship.”
Alexa McCarthy is the host of Last Leg for Impact Sports.
Photo: Alexa McCarthy/Impact Sports