Aaron Baumgarten was following the wrong golf cart — again. Being in the lead pack of a huge race has its benefits, but a relatively unknown difficulty is knowing which way to go on a new course.

It makes it especially difficult when there are two golf carts at the front of the pack — one of which is leading the runners, while the second is tracking times.

“At one point, where there was a straightaway at the top of the hill, the cart leading us went straight but the ones tracking the times went left,” the redshirt junior Baumgarten explained. “So I followed the wrong cart and went left for a few meters until guys in the race had to call me back and tell me I was going the wrong way. My path looked like a triangle.

“It wasn’t significant enough that I lost a position. It wasn’t significant to my race. Looking back on it, it was just funny.” 

Baumgarten’s laughable experience was just a small part of the No. 17 Michigan men’s cross country team trip to Minneapolis this weekend. The Wolverines took 12 of their athletes to the Roy Griak Invitational, where the 8,000-meter course is a preview of the Big Ten Championships’ location. 

The invitational consisted of more than 350 athletes in the men’s gold competition alone. The runners came from more than 30 schools, including highly ranked programs like No. 14 Boise State and Big Ten rivals such as No. 30 Michigan State, Illinois and more. The Wolverines finished fourth with a total of 157 points, almost a hundred points behind the top finisher, Portland, with 69 points. 

Leading Michigan’s finish was Baumgarten, who placed third overall with a time of 25:10.5 — just under five seconds behind the frontrunner from Colorado State. It marked the fifth time in his collegiate career with a top-five finish. 

“I think we have a group of four or five guys who have been training together for the past two years,” Baumgarten said. “We’ve all been growing and getting better together. I don’t see myself as being better than them or the best finisher. Any one of us could have done that. I just did. I was happy with my performance being the top finisher, but I’m not looking at it as being above my teammates.”

This was the Wolverines’ first time back at the course since 2005, which was the last time Minnesota hosted the Big Ten Championships. Michigan and its opponents faced a worn and muddy course after several inches of rain fell during the nights preceding the competition. It made an already rough course even rougher.  

“It’s super hilly,” Baumgarten said. “When you look at the elevation map, it looks like a stock market map or something, there’s no flat line. It’s hard to get a rhythm because you have to focus on each hill. But on top of that, it was super soft and wet from the rain. And on top of that, a bunch of high school races were done before us so patches were worn down and torn up — so that made it slippery. 

“I almost fell a couple times. Driving up hills is so much more difficult when you don’t have solid ground to push off of.”

Following Baumgarten was Michigan’s previous meet’s frontrunner, graduate student transfer Connor Herr, who crossed the finish line in 25:29 for 14th overall. 

“He fits into our social group really well, we really like him,” Baumgarten said. “He started off training a bit more conservative because we weren’t sure where he was in terms of fitness. But he’s proven he can hang with us and train with us, and obviously the results are showing and he’s on a roll.” 

Added Michigan coach Kevin Sullivan: “We expected that (Herr) was going to come in and contribute for us. And he definitely stepped in and exceeded where we hoped he was going to be. It’s always interesting with a graduate student transfer because you don’t know where they fit, but it looks like he’s going to enhance our team and bring a competitive fire.” 

Senior Connor Mora (25:55), redshirt freshman Jordy Hewitt (25:56) and redshirt junior Austin Benoit (26:05) rounded out the Wolverines’ five best finishers, while graduate student Ned Willig (78th) and redshirt junior Billy Bund (95th) topped off Michigan’s scorers. 

Senior captain Ben Flanagan wasn’t able to run, but if he had, he would have been contending alongside Baumgarten for a top finish.

“Regardless of hilly, flat or muddy, we’re focused on the competition,” Sullivan said. “It doesn’t concern us. We’re going to come and be fit and be ready to run. It certainly was good to see the course and figure out how to attack certain sections come Big Tens.” 

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