Connor Herr noticed how barren and quiet the Lavern Gibson Championship Course was. The graduate transfer from Cornell had run the course in pre-nationals two years ago, but back then it was filled with dozens of teams.
Now, it was a field of four: Michigan, Northern Arizona, Duke and Indiana State.
But the lack of spectators and the hushed course coincided with Herr’s desire to stay relaxed and strong through the third event of the year. Herr finished third overall — first for Michigan — with a time of 25:15.0, just 15 seconds behind the winner.
“I looked up and thought my time was slow,” Herr said. “But the time didn’t matter. The course was wet, so there was a lot of puddles and standing water. It was very soggy so it was a slow race, but it was a good, hard effort. I’m just glad I went out hard in the first mile and was in the top group for the majority of the race. I’m happy with the way the race went.”
This weekend, the Michigan men’s cross country team travelled to Terre Haute, Ind.— known as “Cross Country Town, USA” — for the Indiana State Sycamore Invitational. The 18th-ranked Wolverines placed second out of four teams in the 8,000-meter course with a total of 37 points. Northern Arizona outran Michigan, finishing with 18 points for first place.
The relaxed nature of the meet mirrored Michigan coach Kevin Sullivan’s attitude on race day, something Herr enjoys coming from his team at Cornell, where the coach would try to “fire them up” rather than “keep them relaxed and collected.”
“We go over race strategy and plans the night before,” Sullivan said. “Each individual athlete works differently. For me, it’s more about reinforcing what we’ve already talked about and making sure every runner is confident in their ability and fitness and don’t overthink the competition. We try to maintain this lighter relaxed atmosphere, we don’t them worked up.
“The work has been done, we just need to step up and repeat what we do in practice.”
Michigan had a total of seven athletes compete, and the majority of them had never run the NCAA Championships course before.
Running on an unfamiliar course, the Wolverines were looking to emphasize the pack-running tactics they’ve been pushing all season, trying to stack as many athletes as they can in each event. Their hard work showed during Saturday’s meet, as five Michigan runners placed in the top 10 with only a 14-second split from seventh through 11th place.
In addition to Herr, fifth-year senior Austin Benoit finished seventh, redshirt junior Billy Bund came in eighth, redshirt freshman Jordy Hewitt placed ninth and redshirt sophomore Kyle Kroon rounded out the top 10.
“It’s a little different from going from four years on one team and being a leader to coming to Michigan with a new team and new culture,” Herr said. “I wanted to just show that I’m a hard worker and I want to contribute. All the guys are great and welcoming and accepting. It’s very important for team culture for everyone to be on the same page.
“It’s a good way to start the season. It gives me a lot of confidence.”
Michigan is setting its sight on Minneapolis next weekend for the University of Minnesota’s Roy Griak Invitational. The meet will be held on the Les Bolstad Golf Course, the site of November’s Big Ten championships, and will be the first time the whole lineup will be seen together.
But before the Wolverines travel, Sullivan is content to reflect on this past weekend.
“I think overall, with the athletes that we took, who had little experience or who were brand new to our program, I think we had a quality effort and I was really pleased.”