Erin Finn thought she finally had it.
After passing Notre Dame’s Anna Rohrer in the final straightway, just 200 meters separated Finn from Michigan’s first individual cross country national championship since Katie McGregor in 1998.
Despite the incredible nature of Finn’s career — which includes three Big Ten Athlete of the Year awards — it has been marked by misfortune, falling just short at the most inopportune times: she lost her shoe in the 2015 National Championship and was unable to participate in the 1000-meter Olympic qualifiers last year due to a foot injury. Saturday’s race, which took place on her 22nd birthday, provided an opportunity for the senior to finally capture the crown her career deserved.
“I thought that once I passed Anna Rohrer and made up that ground, I thought that the title might be mine,” Finn said, “I had no idea that Karissa Schweizer was coming behind me.”
Mere seconds away from the finish line, Finn turned her head to see Schweizer pass her, forcing the senior to settle for runner-up. It was a bittersweet moment, as the Wolverines ran to a suprising second-place finish — good for Michigan’s best-ever result — just one point behind Oregon. But Finn fell just shy of the championship that has eluded her for so long.
“She did everything she could — similar to the team,” said Wolverine coach Mike McGuire. “She fought hard to get in the lead with about 300 meters to go, but Schweitzer had a great kick at the end and was the better athlete today. She was the deserving champion today, and we tip our hat to her.”
Finn looked poised to capture a triumphant moment, running the 6,000 meters in 19:44 — just 2.6 seconds slower than Schweizer’s.
“Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough,” Finn said. “I thought it was, but I can rest in the fact that I could not have tried any harder or given it any more. But it was definitely a little heartbreaking, a little bittersweet to come so close.”
Even though Finn never captured that elusive individual national championship, McGuire is unequivocally sure that she’s the best runner in program history.
“Erin’s the best distance runner we’ve ever had.” he said. “I’ll put up her body of work, and I don’t even think Katie would dispute it.”
Michigan’s finish was aided by juniors Avery Evenson and Gina Sereno, who finished in 18th and 30th, respectively, leading to the duo earning All-American honors. Freshman Maddy Trevison, 46th, and redshirt junior Jaimie Phelan, 65th, rounded up the Wolverines’ scoring.
Trevison gave Michigan an impressive boost, finishing seventh out of all freshmen runners in her first collegiate championship race.
“All five of our scorers — and even Jamie Morrissey at number six — had great races,” McGuire said. “Maddy stepped up and probably ran 30 seconds faster than she did a month ago; Jaimie Phelan really came on with a really strong last kilometer where she probably passed upwards of 20 people. So in our scoring positions, we really couldn’t have asked for much more than what we got.”
Despite the surprising nature of the second-place result — the team entered the race ranked fifth in the country and simply desired to reach the podium Saturday — the “what-ifs” crept into the minds of Michigan runners following the championship, as one position separated the Wolverines from a share of the national title.
“We were all kind of sitting here on the bus like, ‘Where could I have taken one more place?’ or ‘Where could we have gotten that last point?’ “ Evenson said. “We’re never going to blame one person, but it’s a what-if sort of situation.”
“What if” is a question that has followed Finn in the most painful of ways. She will go down as one of the greatest athletes in school history, as she contributed to an all-time showing for her team, and, yet, she fought back tears when reflecting on her career.
“I’m going to go back to bittersweet,” Finn said. “It’s been an incredible ride, and I’m so grateful to be a Wolverine and have finished that with my teammates. That fact that I could trust that every single one of them went out on the course giving everything they had — and knowing that I was doing the same — there’s nothing more special than that.”