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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

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Behind Sullivan, a new era begins at Michigan

By Matthew Kipnis, Daily Sports Writer
Published August 28, 2014

In the 1990s, the Michigan men’s cross country team was one of the most dominant programs in the Big Ten. The Wolverines, coached by Ron Warhurst, won four NCAA regional championships and four Big Ten championships between the ’93 and ’97 seasons.

Those teams were led by Kevin Sullivan who dominated the field, a consistent pick to finish near the front of the pack. This season, Sullivan return to the team, but as a head coach to begin a new era in team history. A four-time Big Ten Athlete of the Year, he’ll hope to replicate his success as a student athlete and the team’s recent accomplishments this upcoming season.

After winning its first NCAA Great Lakes Regional title in six years and finishing as the runner-up at the Big Ten Championships for the second straight season, the No. 22 men's cross country team will kick off its season competing in the Michigan Open this Friday. The non-scoring 5,000-meter race will give the Wolverine’s young team a chance to see where it stands.

“We will be using it more as a fitness test to see where our guys are at,” Sullivan said. “There will be a few unattached athletes who are competing against our team so there will be a few extra guys in there but for the most part it will be us competing against ourselves.

“For me, it is about getting to learn the guys on the team not having recruited any of these guys or coached them before. I have really got to get up to speed on where guys are at, what the strengths are, what we need to work on, learning personalities and the way the guys interact with each other and with me.”

The team came back to campus August 20th and immediately left for camp at the U-M Bio Station in Pellston, Michigan to train and bond as a team. When Michigan competes for the first time this season, the team will have had only eight practices together under its belt so this meet will allow coach Sullivan to evaluate his runners.

Unfortunately for Sullivan, his roster includes only one senior and 15 runners who haven't competed in an official meet with the Wolverines. With seven incoming freshman along the 21 total returning harriers — eight of whom redshirted as freshmen, the Michigan Open will allow for many young runners to gain race experience.

Michigan isn’t an inexperienced team however returning four of their key runners from the 2013 NCAA Great Lakes Regional title team including juniors Tony Smoragiewicz and All-American Mason Ferlic and sophomores Ben Flanagan and Connor Mora.

“We are a very talented team that had good success last year, and to be this young really bodes well for the future,” Sullivan said. “(Flanagan and Mora) are two guys who we are definitely looking for to take another step forward. It is hard to say for sure who will step up because everyone is coming in at different fitness levels, but a lot of the guys who redshirted last year have come in pretty fit this year. Aaron Baumgarten and Micah Beller have looked really good, but a number of our redshirt freshmen have been looking pretty good in practice.”

The former All-American, Sullivan will bring a wealth of experience and knowledge from his success in the 1990's that he hopes will rub off on younger runners.

Now he faces his biggest race of his career: developing his team.