On Friday, the Michigan men’s and women’s cross country teams found themselves on familiar territory.
Facing some of the strongest fields in NCAA regional competition anywhere in the country, both the women’s and men’s teams emerged having run extraordinary races on the LaVern Gibson Championship Course in Terre Haute, Ind., at the annual NCAA Great Lakes Regional as the men finished in third and the women captured their fourth-consecutive Great Lakes regional title.
The seventh-ranked women were led by third-and fourth-place finishes from freshman Anne Forsyth and redshirt senior Avery Evenson on the six-kilometer course, earning the squad a berth in Saturday’s NCAA Championships to be held in Madison, Wis.
“We recognized that we’re a part of outstanding cross country here in this part of the country, and we knew we had to come in focused and ready to go,” said Michigan women’s coach Mike McGuire.
Coming off their third consecutive Big Ten title two weeks before, the Wolverines finished five runners in the top 16, helping them claim a decisive victory over runner-up and Big Ten rival Wisconsin.
“Running against teams like Wisconsin, Michigan State and Notre Dame, it definitely raises the bar,” McGuire said. “But we proved equal if not superior to the challenges that were presented to us.”
Although Michigan was the deepest team in the field, its victory was by no means a walk (or run) in the park.
“The race went out pretty fast,” Evenson said. “The Notre Dame girl (Anna Rohrer), she took it hard from the beginning.
“My teammate (Forsyth) and I knew we were going to run in that second wave just off the front pace and would catch people in the last two kilometers. So we worked together for the first four kilometers and tried to move up as many places as we could in the final two.”
Both Wolverine squads had to contend with challenging conditions on the course.
“The course was super hard today,” Evenson said. “The ground was really soft and there were hard crosswinds and super cold, so we knew it would be a grind.”
In spite of this, as with the women’s team, those conditions posed few problems for the No. 27-ranked men’s team. After a close battle, the men placed behind Wisconsin and Notre Dame, positioning themselves well for the at-large championship berth they subsequently received during the NCAA Championships Selection Show on Saturday. Sophomore Jack Aho and junior Isaac Harding led the Wolverines with 10th-and 11th-place finishes, respectively.
“We knew both Wisconsin and Notre Dame are teams ranked in the top 10, and we knew that we couldn't afford to lose to, in particular, Indiana or Michigan State,” said Michigan men’s coach Kevin Sullivan. “If either of those teams had beaten us we’d have been blocked out of nationals, so we knew what we had to do. It was really just a matter of executing that.”
The men overcame their No. 5 ranking before the meet to come from behind and upset conference rivals Purdue and Indiana, whose teams finished in fourth and fifth place, respectively. Their performance was a marked improvement from that seen at the Big Ten Championships two weeks ago and a high point in a season that has sometimes seen mixed results.
“This season we’ve been a little up and down, with some good meets early on but being a bit below where we wanted to be at the Big Ten Championships,” Aho said.
“So coming into today we really just wanted to put ourselves in the best position possible to make it to nationals.”