A Longshot Landing
Jan. 15, 2008
by Jeff Smith
In the end, Nicole Edwards felt guilty that she had already booked a flight for a recruiting trip to Michigan, so she went anyways knowing that her mind was already made up. Of the five schools she was looking at - Arizona State, Duke, Michigan, Notre Dame and Wake Forest - it was the latter that she had all but committed to.
Michigan head cross country coach and track and field associate head coach Mike McGuire felt the same way. The decorated middle-distance and distance mentor notified his current team that this product coming in from Winnipeg, Manitoba, was in fact a longshot. Looking back, McGuire says interest was shown in the young Edwards only because she had initiated contact through e-mail. Generally, McGuire and the Wolverines do not recruit in Manitoba due to its short and limited competitive running schedule. Typically there are very few potential candidates that could come from that area and compete with a distance powerhouse like Michigan.
McGuire was impressed initially with her resume and felt that she fit the model of what the program looks for in a recruit, both athletically and academically. And too, he felt that Ann Arbor still offered a warmer climate compared to Manitoba, however his gut was telling him that this potential recruit was heading south.
But as the visit on campus progressed, McGuire felt more and more better about his longshot and after seeing Edwards connect with Katie Erdman and the rest of the team, he felt at the end of the day he had landed a big one.
Indeed he did.
Looking back on that process and the career Edwards has already accomplished in her three-plus years at Michigan leaves the 18-year coach with quite the retrospect.
"Nicole is so versatile and her range of accomplishments and her overall ability is probably better than anyone else we have had here," he said. "Across the spectrum when looking at her range, from 600 meters in track to 6,000 meters in cross country, Nicole is probably the best I have seen in the 18 years I have been here."
After landing his longshot, McGuire immediately redshirted Edwards for her freshman season in cross country. He knew though that she would make an immediate impact during track season and he was again proven correct.
She posted a runner-up finish and earned second-team All-Conference honors in the 600 meters at the Big Ten Championships and ran the 1,600-meter anchor leg of the school's distance medley relay (DMR) squad, which took home the league title. Weeks later she ran the opening 1,200-meter leg in the DMR at the NCAA Indoor Championships and helped the Wolverines to the national championship.
"That was an experience I wouldn't trade for anything," Edwards said. "It was pretty amazing just to be on that team and I can say I haven't experienced anything like that since."
What was perhaps most notable was that Edwards ran two different legs in the relay just two weeks apart. McGuire said that when the Wolverines captured the indoor conference title in front of their home crowd in Ann Arbor, they did so with the help of Lindsey Gallo winning all three of her events, which is why she was pulled off the DMR squad and Edwards received the chance to compete.
"The two legs that are the most significant in the DMR are the front and back, and Nicole did both as a freshman," McGuire said.
Edwards has had the opportunity to win a championship in the each of her three seasons at Michigan. As a sophomore in 2006, she captured the Big Ten title in the mile and earned All-America honors in both the mile and the DMR. Last year she repeated as an All-American in both events and helped the DMR squad to the conference championship. She also boasted personal-best times in both events as well, setting a Michigan indoor record in the mile, clocking in with a career-best, NCAA automatic qualifying time of 4:36.08 at the Tyson Invitational. She later helped anchor the DMR squad to a winning record-setting time of 11:19.68 at the conference meet.
Edwards attributes much of her success to McGuire and the relationship the two have had the past three years. In all of college athletics, distance runners have perhaps the most unique opportunity throughout the year, working with the same coach in three different seasons. Under McGuire's tutelage, Edwards has captured the NCAA Great Lakes Regional title the past two seasons in cross county and has championship success in both the indoor and outdoor seasons as well.
"I had some good race times in high school I think, but I came in here and did what coach told me to do and it made me better," said Edwards. "I have improved every single year and that is something a lot of people can't say."
McGuire says the "tremendous amount of mutual respect" between the two has helped the partnership flourish.
"I have empowered her with making decisions on more things than I have with others, because I know she's going to make the right decision," he said. "I think we have a good balance of motivating her and being able to joke around and have some fun. She's one of the best I ever had."
Edwards also points out that her support system extends beyond McGuire and the team, as her parents and two sisters have been there for her throughout her career. She ran with her older sister through junior high and decided to stick with running in high school while her sister did not. Her aunt, who owns several distance records at Rice University, helped Edwards' parents understand the process Edwards was going through as she took had left Canada for college in the States.
Edwards is looking for the final year of her collegiate track career to be a successful one. The team co-captain is excited for this season in particular by the way the Wolverines finished last year's outdoor meet so strong. She is also determined to finish out her degree in civil engineering with hopes of joining family involved in entrepreneurial ventures.
For McGuire, he too is looking forward to his final season working with Edwards in track, although she still has one year of eligibility remaining in cross country. But this indoor season will be a special one for the Wolverine coach. His longshot has shown she can play the role of both the team leader and anchor.
"You know once your kids get to the end of their career, you start thinking about how much you are going to miss them," McGuire said. "Nicole is at the top of that list."