Just this past month, Ziyah Holman, a U Michigan frosh, became a global sensation, due a fabulous anchor that she completed in a 4x400m. David Hunter caught up with the fab frosh and posted this piece today…
Michigan’s Ziyah Holman: How Accomplished Can She Be?
Wolverine Frosh Off to Scintillating Start
February 14th, 2021
We know that track & field athletes that excel at the highest high school level are coveted and pursued by the most successful NCAA Division I track & field powerhouses. But there are always unknown questions for both the incoming athlete and the track & field program at the school the athlete has chosen to attend: Will the high school star be able to effectively adapt to the new and different facets of college life? Will the athlete be able to handle life away from home, college class work, dormitory living, and – of course – the elevated demands of track & field competition: the practice; the travel; a different coaching approach; and the improved level of event performance that is required to attain collegiate success in the athlete’s given event? For many, the student athlete / program relationship is successful. For others, it is not. Early returns suggest that the adaptation of freshman sprint phenom Ziyah Holman to life at the University of Michigan is working quite well, thank you very much.
Ziyah Holman authored a sensational high school career as a versatile sprinter at Georgetown Day School, capturing 16 DCSAA state titles while posting career bests of 12.07 (100m), 24.18 (200m), 38.53 (300m), 52.12 (400m), and 1:13.74 (500m). With the pandemic precluding a senior year outdoor season, the Maryland native’s pinnacle prep moments came in the summer before her senior year: 400m bronze medalist at the ’19 USATF U20 championships and gold medalist running the third leg (51.2) on the USA’s U20 world record-setting 4x400m relay (3:24.04) at the ’19 Pan-American U20 Championships “It was my first experience with something that serious. I remember being surrounded by so many talented track athletes . There was so much talent there,” notes the Wolverine rookie. “There was this unspoken narrative that everyone was together and everyone wanted to succeed. It wasn’t like high school. It was just very scary. We weren’t running for any state titles. We’re on a national track team. Oh, I was so nervous,” she admits. But with a smile she adds, “When the pressure is on I always rise to the occasion.”
World record performers attract heavy recruiting. “As soon as I started breaking records, making teams, and winning a lot of things on a national level, that’s when everybody started to come,” recalls Ziyah. “One thing throughout my recruiting process that stayed constant was that academics were important to me as well as the people I would be surrounded by. I really kept that in the front of my mind when deciding what school I wanted to go to. At the end of the day, it came down to Michigan, Duke, Wisconsin, Georgia, UCLA, and LSU. In deciding among those schools, I just had to really hone in on who was going to develop me not only as an athlete, but also as a great person.” With a smile, she adds, “Michigan got that by a lot. They have great academics, great athletics, and just great people here.”
And the new sprinter has worked on settling in, getting comfortable in her new setting, and learning about her different environment with fresh demands and expectations. “It is totally fine,” declares Holman of her life at U of M. “As a kid, I was pretty independent. I really didn’t have any trouble being on my own. I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job mentally being away from home. Not being able to be there all the time is hard. But I am used to be being constantly traveling and constantly being away from home and my family.” And she has focused on coping with the pandemic challenges we all face. “It’s just COVID,” laments Ziyah, “and trying to stay safe and making sure that your family back home is staying safe.”
The entering freshman knew that much would be expected of her once she stepped on the gleaming, state-of-the-art track in Michigan’s U-M Indoor Track Building. Ziyah was ready. Last summer after high school graduation, Holman, who has always had a solid work ethic, worked religiously in preparing for collegiate track in Ann Arbor. “I’ve been working pretty hard over the summer even with quarantine and even when COVID first hit. And when I came here to Michigan I worked all through the fall,” she explains. In her first competition in mid-January, Holman – who had never raced in an event over 500m – would begin her indoor collegiate career with the 600m run. How’d she do? Her wire-to-wire win in 1:29.27 at the time was the NCAA leader, 5th on the world list, established a new field house best, and set a gaggle of other records. Not yet done, the freshman came back later that afternoon to anchor the women’s 4x400m meter relay. With the Wolverines in 3rd and down by over 30 meters when she grabbed the baton, Holman faced a daunting task with only two laps remaining.. Without hesitation, Holman turned on the jets in her quest to hawk down the two leading athletes. “I thought if I could catch them, that would be amazing. But if couldn’t, I’d know that I tried my best,” reflects Holman. First she blew by the Ohio State closer with just over one lap to go and then set sail after the Indiana anchor on the final circuit. Closing the gap and flying onto the home stretch, Ziyah roared past the Hoosier in the final 10 meters to seal the victory for Michigan. Her split: 51.79. Click on the link below to witness Holman’s electrifying anchor leg which has been enjoyed by over 3.5 million viewers:
“I think I was ready to like really gauge where I could be in the 400 and really see how the 400 would go. I hadn’t run the 400 since last February – almost a year. So I really just wanted to go out there and see what I could do,” offers Holman on her scintillating anchor leg. “I had run the 600 before and I knew I was going to be tired in my first meet. But the adrenalin was there. We were down by so much that I just wanted to really give it all I had. It was the last race. Why not?”
The following weekend Michigan’s rising sprint star won the 600m again in Indiana’s fieldhouse. Her finishing time of 1:28.08 lowered her 1-week old PR and set a new University of Michigan school record. As of this writing, that performance ranks her #5 among all USA women and #6 on the women’s world list.
Record performances by an upstart freshmen always engender speculation. Just how good could this athlete be? And given Ziyah’s broad range, what is her best event at this moment in her development? The young Wolverine, exhibiting poise beyond her years, takes her time to evaluate. “That’s really hard. It’s really between the 4 and the 6,” ponders Holman. “I will say the 600 just because now I’ve gotten kind of used to it. I’ve run it twice and I kind of know how it feels, when I need to pick it up, and when I need to slow down,” she explains. “Now that I know what the 600 feels like and knowing the 400 is 200 meters less, now I feel like I can sprint that 400, and really depend on my strength, and really go out fast. But I haven’t been able to run the open 400. So I can’t really gauge.” Later in her career, Ziyah foresees several evolutions. “I think that it will be the 400 [as my ultimate best event] just because I am so used to running the 400. I love the 400. In high school, I ran the 400/200, but now I think I’ll probably have to go toward the 800 and start that training cycle soon just because I am kinda getting away from the 2. I haven’t really done much 200 work and it is more of the longer work that I’ve been doing.”
Ziyah, who sees a career in law in her future once her track career concludes, is candid about her freshman year track goals. “I hope to make it to nationals indoors and outdoors. I want to place at nationals as a freshman. I think that is one of my biggest goals I want to accomplish, to set that standard for the next few years I’m here and to really get my name out early. I haven’t really assigned a time goal just because I want to leave that open so I can see what I can really do. I know I can split 51.7 – that’s my personal fastest. One of my goals was to run 51 this year. So I did that in my first meet. So I’m not even going to assign a time anymore.” Holman, who turns 19 this year, knows that other supplementary practices will help her reach her primary goals. “I also want to remain healthy, to practice good habits,” she adds. Ziyah also wants to keep all options open. “You never really know what opportunities may arise. If the opportunity to turn pro arises in the coming years, maybe next year, I may take that. I’m not really sure. It all depends. You never know.”
As the sport moves outdoors in the spring, if the young Michigan long sprinter achieves the USA Olympic Trials qualifying standard for 400m [51.35], would she compete in Eugene? Without hesitation, Ziyah Holman knows what she would do. “Yes. Even if I knew that I wouldn’t make it, I would still go – just for the experience. Honestly, with track & field, if you don’t have it that day, you don’t have it. Track is such an unforgiving sport. You have to have it that day, at that hour. It may be somebody’s “off” day and it may be my “on” day. So there is always a shot to make that team.” / Dave Hunter /