Track and field hosts No. 24 California, Michigan

University President Sullivan impetus for tri-meet

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The showdown between Virginia, California and Michigan in a tri-meet this Saturday at Lannigan Field will mark the second leg of a three-year series between the top-flight public universities — an idea which can be traced back to the first meeting between University President Teresa Sullivan, the former Provost and Vice President at Michigan, and coach Bryan Fetzer.

“[Women’s basketball coach] Joanne Boyle was standing with us and she mentioned that I had coached at Cal,” Fetzer said. “So this idea pops in [Sullivan’s] head, and she asks if we’ve ever had a meet with Cal and Michigan.”

The collegiate track and field universe is quite small, with close ties connecting many programs. For three years Fetzer was an assistant for the Golden Bears’ track and field team under coach Tony Sandoval. Virginia assistant coach Pete Watson was also on the staff of current Wolverines’ coach Jerry Clayton during his tenure at Auburn. These connections are what ultimately set this meet in motion.

Once a mainstay in track and field, dual and tri-meets have fallen out of favor through the years. However, the excitement of direct team-to-team competition in which every position matters contributes to the format’s re-emergence.

“This type of meet is exciting for the student athletes and for the institutions,” Clayton said. “Being a scored meet adds another element to it and I think the alumni identify with these types of meets as well.”

The level of competition at Lannigan Field will also heighten excitement at the event. The California men’s team is currently ranked 24th in the nation, and the Wolverines — who are now only beginning their season — also promise to be a high-quality opponent.

The Cavaliers learned firsthand how talented both programs are last year in Berkeley, Calif., where both the Virginia men’s and women’s teams finished in last place. Lacking considerable depth, Virginia was unable to keep the competition close. The men finished 68 points behind the victorious No. 12 Golden bears and 52 points out of second.

The story was the same for the women, with No. 9 Michigan defeating the Cavaliers by 67 points.

“We got pounded,” Fetzer said. “We didn’t field a lot of events, and both Michigan and California are great programs.”

The Cavaliers have since restocked their shelves with high-quality — albeit young — talent. All year long — from cross country to indoor track and finally into the outdoor season — it has been the freshman athletes who have stepped up when needed and performed beyond their years.

Facing elite athletes from California and Michigan is just the next step in the collective maturation of the Virginia team.

“The only way to get better is competing against folks that can potentially beat you,” Fetzer said. “If we wanted to be an average program, we would only go against average teams.”

Clayton said he believes the three schools competing truly embody the spirit of collegiate athletics — excelling in both athletics and academics.

“I think this type of meet defines what the NCAA was originally intended for,” Clayton said. “You have athletes who are performing outstandingly in the classroom and now we’re putting it all together on the track.”

Action is scheduled to begin Saturday at 3 p.m. at Lannigan Field.


Published April 2, 2014 in Sports





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