Fifth-year senior Mason Ferlic was not going to lose.
In the last 400 meters of the Great Lakes Regional in Madison, he was head-to-head with the same athlete he lost the individual title to at the Big Ten Championship on Nov. 1, and Ferlic refused to be second again.
Ferlic didn’t lose it. He crossed the finish line at 30:18.3 to claim the win over Purdue’s Matt McClintock, who crossed just two seconds after. Ferlic’s team did well too, as the No. 5 Michigan men’s cross country team won the event.
“Coming down the home stretch, I knew I had the win,” Ferlic said. “McClintock and I have been great rivals, but it was nice to flip the tables on him. I have a lot of respect for that guy, but I had a little bit of fire under me in the last 400 meters of the race — where me and him were duking it out. I said to myself, ‘I’m not losing to him today.’
“I just wanted to make it a solid effort from the gun. I wanted to settle into a rhythm. I knew if I started off well, I was going to be able to do it if I stayed relaxed and controlled myself. I told myself I was going to go for a win.”
Not only did he go for the win, the team did, too.
This weekend, Michigan travelled to Wisconsin to compete in the Great Lakes Regional. As is becoming the norm for the Wolverines, they captured the title with a total of 67 points on the 10,000-meter course. All five of their scorers finished within the top 25, with redshirt junior Nick Renberg running a personal best of 31:08.4 to place 15th.
The commanding win comes right after Michigan claimed the Big Ten title and just before it will compete at the NCAA Championships. The last time the team won both the Big Ten and Great Lakes Regional title, in 1997, the team placed fourth at the NCAA Championships. That year, current Michigan coach Kevin Sullivan placed second in the nation.
The goal for the current Wolverine team is to replicate the performance from 1997 with a top-four team finish. Sullivan just wants his team to be on that podium.
“It’s a big deal to win a regional championship,” Sullivan said. “When we came in this season, this was our goal. But now, we’re starting to reevaluate our goals. We wanted to be a top team at nationals, but now we would love to take a crack at being one of the top four teams.”
This is the second time in three years that Michigan has claimed the Great Lakes Regional title. The Wolverines have won the event just four times in program history.
A part of the team that made history, besides Renberg and Ferlic, were junior Ben Flanagan in 11th (30:54.2), senior Tony Smoragiewiecz in 18th (31:12.0) and redshirt sophomore Aaron Baumgarten in 22nd (31:15.4). Other Michigan finishers included senior August Pappas in 31st (31:31.5) and fifth-year senior Nick Posada in 60th (32:15.7).
Notably, the women’s cross country team also took home the title. This is the second time in program history that both the men’s and women’s teams have won in the same year — the last time being in 2013.
But that’s not to say the Wolverines ran faster than they ever have Friday. Ferlic thinks they just ran smart.
“I don’t think it was a heroic effort by the team,” Ferlic said. “We did what we had to do. We were smart. We got the job done. We came out with a good amount of emotional energy without spending too much physical energy — which is what you want to do.”
The athletes were facing up to 25-mile-per-hour winds. For Ferlic and other Michigan athletes, the key was to recognize the challenge that the wind presented when it was facing them. Ferlic said it felt like “you were standing still,” but when the wind was at their back, the runners could make up for the time lost. In doing so, the athletes struck a balance and matched their efforts against and with the wind.
Regardless of the race strategy when dealing with weather, not much else has changed these past few meets. And, most likely, not much will change for the last meet of the season at the NCAA Championships in Louisville, Kentucky, on Nov. 21.
“We have a good thing going this year,” Sullivan said. “It’s like, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. We’ve had the same intentions with the same goals in mind all season, and we didn’t change much up. We’re not going to change much up going into nationals, either.”