Michigan State track and field head coach Walt Drenth has said that the sport does come with many surprises; it is all about waiting for a breakthrough.
This weekend, MSU track and field saw some of the breakthroughs they have been waiting for (and needing) since the indoor season.
The team sent five distance runners from the women’s team to the Larry Ellis Invitational at Princeton University in an effort to face national and post-collegiate competition.
Leah O’Connor stepped out of her usual mile race to compete in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, her first this season. She turned in a fourth place finish with a career-best time of 9:44.35. Fellow steeplechaser Katie Landwehr came in fifth with a personal best time of 10:09.87.
Both girls are looking to make a run to the national meet.
“We knew they were ready to run,” Drenth said. “Leah is one of the best in the country. And Katie, I think she could go all the way to Eugene with the way she’s racing and learning to race.”
After struggling with low iron levels, Rachele Schulist had her debut in the 5,000-meter race turning in a third place finish with a time of 16:08.46, the fastest time on the team this season.
“Rachele Schulist had some problems with iron levels that we were not aware of going into nationals and explains, a little, of why in her race she did the way she did [at the national meet],” Drenth said. “She’s getting that straightened out and to be able to run her debut 5,000 and have her run a time that will send her to nationals and score well in the conference meet. I was really pleased with that.”
At the Jesse Owens meet at Ohio State University, the team succeeded in doing what they struggled to do at the Big Ten Indoor Championship, staying present and competitive the whole weekend.
“I thought we made some good progress in a number of places,” Drenth said. “The number one thing is that I thought we competed really well from the beginning to the end of the meet. It was a really long day.”
The men and women’s sprinter group continue to find their competitive selves.
Men’s 4×400 team came in second at 3:11.77 with a team of Ross Parsons, Austin Sanders, Stephon Foster and David Washington. As a mostly young group, the coaches see this as a step in the right direction.
“That’s a sign of maturity that them starting to see the big picture and their role,” Drenth said.
Earlier in the day the 4×100 team posted a third place finish with a time of 40.94. While a top three finish is nothing to be disappointed in, they are still looking to improve in some things to be more competitive in the conference.
“We need to work on our exchanges in the relays,” Drenth said. “But if we work on our exchanges I think they have a legitimate chance of going to nationals and definitely scoring some points at the conference meet.”
The women had a great weekend and after a full day of racing the 4×400-meter team earned a second place finish at 3:43.74
“I think we did a better job. They’re learning. That women’s sprint group is good. They’re talented, they’ve had success,” Drenth said. “We need them. We can’t be as good as we are capable of being as a team without that women’s sprint group. And I think they’re really starting to get it.”
Alicia Evans earned second in the 400-meter dash with 55.20 and first in the 200-meter at 23.58. Jellissa Westney also saw success with a third place finish in the 100-meter dash at 11.75 and a second place finish in the 200-meter dash with 23.69.
Aubrey Wilberding won her favorite race, the 800-meter run with a time of 2:10.10 and then went on to anchor the 4×400 and to be a key component in the race.
In the shot put Antonio James placed third with a mark of 61 feet. After a very successful indoor season he seemed to be struggling to use that momentum. The coaches are looking to him as a key component of the team.
“AJ is really critical to our success. AJ throwing 61 ft. with the shot put, it’s really important for us because he’s a big point scorer in conference meet,” Drenth said.
Next week, the team continues to split competition at the Drake Relays (Des Moines, Iowa), the GINA Relays (Hillsdale, Mich.) and Ashland University Alumni Open (Ashland, Ohio).
Alexa McCarthy is the host of Last Leg for Impact Sports.
Photo: Nubia Buckingham/Impact Sports