In the last 1,000 meters of the 5.2-mile course, redshirt sophomore Aaron Baumgarten knew his teammate, junior Connor Mora, was struggling in the hilly terrain.
Yet as Baumgarten passed his teammate, the two “rallied together,” earning second and third place finishes at 25:30 and 25:35, respectively. Both ran career-best times.
The Michigan men’s cross country team traveled to State College to compete in the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational on Friday. Michigan is ranked the highest it has been in preseason polls since 2008. The 12th-ranked Wolverines totaled 35 points and clinched their first title of the season in a field of six teams. They defeated No. 3 Syracuse and had four athletes place in the top 10 spots. Baumgarten was the first Wolverine to cross the finish line.
“My plan going into the race was to keep it controlled,” Baumgarten said. “What I do best at, and what I’ve learned, is to stay relaxed throughout the whole race. Once those people who went out too hard start to break, that’s when I pick it up — when others are dying.
“Passing people is a huge motivation, especially if it’s happening often. I really feel like I excel at hills, which was a huge point of this course. I beat a lot of athletes in that last mile.”
The course is longer than the standard 8,000-meter course, but Michigan coach Kevin Sullivan — who ran the course himself when he was an athlete — prepared his runners through his own experience.
This race was earlier in the year so teams have more flexibility with their roster. The Orange opted not to enter their best runners in this event, but so did Sullivan. Fifth-year seniors August Pappas and reigning All-American Mason Ferlic did not run.
Yet those who did run filled the void of the two key Wolverines.
“This is definitely a much more low-key meet, and it was really nice to get an idea of where our team stands next to a top-five team,” Baumgarten said. “We stacked up really well against them, even without some key players. As a whole, our team is in a very good position to make a big impact come championship season.”
Junior co-captain Ben Flanagan crossed the finish line in eighth place with a time of 25:47 and senior Tony Smoragiewicz crossed five seconds later for ninth. Redshirt sophomore Micah Beller competed for the first time this season and finished in 13th place (26:02) followed two seconds later by redshirt junior Jarred Bratley in 14th. Redshirt freshman Kyle Kroon finished 18th (26:10) and was the final scorer on the Michigan roster.
Also among Michigan’s finishers were fifth-year senior Nick Posada (19th place), redshirt freshman Chase Barnett (24th), redshirt sophomore Austin Benoit (28th), and senior Alex Moran (30th).
Kroon and Barnett made their Wolverine debuts this weekend.
“We knew we had a shot to win coming in. We knew we had strong competitors,” Sullivan said. “I think what we saw today correlated to what we’ve seen in practice, I thought we had a strong team performance. In particular (Baumgarten) and (Mora) really stepped up their game. Both of them stepped up in terms of continuation of their progress.”
Baumgarten also thinks that he’s continuously improving.
“As a way to see it, last year I was the fourth or fifth (Michigan athlete) for most of the races,” Baumgarten said. “But now, I’m coming in third and second and maybe later, first. I’ve been doing everything I can to make sure I have the best performance possible, like sleeping and eating better and training more.
“It’s very rewarding to see it pay off. I think this season, I have gained a lot more respect on this team.”