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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

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With No. 1 ranking, Wolverines poised for big season

By Shawn Heroor, For the Daily
Published August 27, 2014

The Michigan women’s cross country team has won three straight regional titles under coach Mike McGuire. And this year, they could go beyond that.

Tuesday, the Wolverines were ranked first in the national coach’s poll. All for good reason.

Led by four co-captains, senior Brooke Handler, and redshirt seniors Taylor Pogue, Alex Leptich and Megan Weschler, Michigan has the experience to finish better than its fourth-place finish at the NCAA Championships last season.

Behind All-American sophomore Erin Finn and junior standouts Shannon Osika, Taylor Manett and Anna Pasternak, their depth should help them contend. Now, the Wolverines have a shot at their first national title.

“Right now, we’re only focused on staying healthy and getting better day by day,” McGuire said. “We know there are high projections after last season, but projections don’t mean anything.”

Michigan will also look to regain the Big Ten title this season after finishing second behind Michigan State in 2013. To do so, they’ll hope for an encore performance from Finn, last season’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year, who finished first at the Big Ten Championships last fall.

Finn, who competed for Team USA at the NACAC Under-23 championships this summer, now has a chance to improve upon her 30th-place finish at the NCAA Championships.

“(Finn) steadily improved all last season,” McGuire said. “She had a good cross (country) season, a great indoor track season, and an even better outdoor (track) season. We’re hoping that transitions into a great fall for her.”

Another boost for the Wolverines will be the return of Pogue, who missed the Big Ten and NCAA Championships due to injury. Pogue, an All-Big Ten performer in 2011, figures to be an integral part of the Wolverine lineup this season.

“(Pogue) has been a key piece of our team for a few seasons, so losing her last year was a disappointment,” McGuire said.

Several underclassmen will also hope to impact the Wolverines during the season, including redshirt freshman Corinne Florie and Gina Sereno. Both runners saw time running with the track and field team last spring and hope to break into the team during the year.

With so much depth on the team, McGuire admits that competition for the coveted seven spots on the team will be heated. However, he emphasizes that the competition will only improve the team.

“It’s a friendly competition,” Mcguire said. “The competitiveness during practice allows them to push each other and make each other better.”

The Wolverines will be challenged for the Big Ten title again by the Spartans — ranked sixth in the nation — as well as 16th-ranked Wisconsin. While the Big Ten Championships, as well as the National Championships, months away, McGuire made it clear that his team expects to improve on last year’s impressive performances.

“This is Michigan, the goals are the same every year,” McGuire said. “For the seniors, it’s their last hurrah, their last time in the block 'M.' They know what they have to do.”