By Jake Lourim, Daily Sports Writer
Published August 29, 2014
As far as competitions go, Friday’s Michigan Open was little more than a tune-up for the No. 1 women’s cross country team.
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“It’s easier to get competitive with a red shirt or a green shirt than it is with my own teammates,” said senior captain Brook Handler.
But the Wolverines looked just fine competing against their own maize shirts.
Junior Shannon Osika and sophomore Erin Finn took each other right down to the wire, finishing with identical times of 17:01.5. In the end, one final push put Osika past the finish line a split second sooner, giving her a third straight Michigan Open title.
Finn had the slimmest of leads for most of the race, but Osika pushed her the whole way after the two broke away from the pack.
“We don’t really look at it like competition,” Osika said. “Nobody’s trying to beat each other on the team, it’s more just pulling each other along. It’s nice to have that motivation out there.”
Handler said the plan going into the race was to stay together as a team for the first mile. Almost all of the 29 Wolverines competing did that, and then the top runners separated themselves.
Handler finished 34 seconds behind the leaders — an uncharacteristically large deficit for Handler, according to coach Mike McGuire. According to McGuire, Osika, Finn and Handler formed the team’s lead pack at camp, which ended Thursday.
“Each of them can make the other one better, and they all have strengths that others can feed off of,” McGuire said. “The big thing is that they get along really well. We have a good balance between being competitive and being harmonious.”
Fifth-year senior Taylor Pogue and redshirt junior Anna Pasternak followed the top three with times of 17:45.4 and 17:51.9, respectively. Just over 50 seconds separated the top five runners, a time McGuire said he would like to trim down to 40 seconds over 6K.
Nineteen of 32 runners were Wolverines, including the top 10 finishers. The rest were unattached.
While McGuire hopes to improve the depth from Friday’s meet, he also wants to maintain Finn, Osika and Handler as three of the nation’s best. The trio finished 30th, 56th and 64th, respectively at the NCAA Championships last year, helping the team to a fourth-place finish nationally. Junior Taylor Manett, another returner from last year’s squad, was 57th at the NCAA Championships.
The returning talent earned the Wolverines a preseason No. 1 ranking this year.
“The ranking is calling a lot of attention,” McGuire said. “We have more depth than we’ve had in the last couple years, but you get to the national meet, front running is important. We feel we’re starting to develop front runners.”
Though the No. 1 ranking is Michigan’s first in program history, the team is slow to bring it up early in the season.
“We’ve talked about it on our team, it’s kind of more of an unspoken goal,” Osika said. “We’re not constantly like, ‘Oh, we have to win this.’ We show each other through actions like doing all the little things, making sure we’re doing our core, eating good, going to bed on time, ice bathing. Through those actions, we all kind of know without saying.”
Whether they acknowledge it or not, the Wolverines have one of the best returning contingents in the nation. And as Osika and Finn proved Friday, they’ll be pushing each other every step of the way.