The Michigan women’s cross country team claimed the NCAA Great Lakes Regional title Friday at the Tom Zimmer Championship Course in Madison. The victory earned the Wolverines a spot in the NCAA Championships next week.
The seventh-ranked Wolverines took first place in a 31-team pool with a final score of 69 points — a solid 10-point lead over runner-up Notre Dame, which finished with a final score of 79 points. The regional title is Michigan’s fourth in the past five seasons and the 10th in program history.
The Wolverines were led by junior Erin Finn, who took fifth with a time of 20:44.3 and was the highest-placing Michigan runner. While strong winds made the 6,000-meter course more challenging, Finn believed her toughest obstacle was holding back while other runners were putting everything they had into the race.
“It was just managing myself,” Finn said, “knowing that I wanted to race conservatively so I would have more in the tank for next week, while other girls were racing really hard.”
Despite Finn’s solid finish, she credited the rest of her team for pulling off the win, noting that her teammates’ proximity to one another during the race helped the Wolverines claim the regional title.
“It’s definitely a whole-team contribution, and especially in a team sport like cross country,” Finn said. “One leader doesn’t really matter as much as the stretch. So it’s good that I got things going, but it mattered more that I had girls coming in close after me. That’s what helped us win today.”
Michigan had six runners place in the top 25, including fifth-year senior Anna Pasternak, who took 11th with a time of 20:54.7. Despite being a part of four Great Lakes Regional teams, Pasternak had never placed higher than 30th at the meet.
Senior Shannon Osika took 16th shortly after Pasternak crossed the line, with a final time of 20:59.6. Redshirt sophomores Gina Sereno and Jaimie Phelan finished 17th and 20th, respectively, with times of 21:00.0 and 21:01.4.
Michigan coach Mike McGuire, who has coached all of the Great Lakes Regional titles in Michigan history, said there was still work to do before the NCAA Championships next Saturday. He stressed that maintaining health and cleaning up small mistakes will help the team reach its ultimate goals.
“You always want to come out ranked higher than when you went in,” McGuire said. “We definitely want to strive to get on a podium, which is top four. We’ve had performances at various times in the season that would be worthy of podium finishes. We just have to get it done. It will take our best efforts, but it’s not an effort that we’re not capable of.”
The Wolverines will look to accomplish those goals next Saturday at the 2015 NCAA Championships in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s Michigan’s last chance to add to a successful season.