Mason Ferlic knew that making his season debut in the fourth cross country meet of the year would be a test of how well he has trained so far. When the fifth-year senior came in first place in a field of 213 athletes, he passed that test.
He was one of just six athletes to finish under 24 minutes with a time of 23:51.52.
Saturday, the Michigan men’s and women’s cross country teams traveled to Louisville, Ky., to compete in the Greater Louisville Classic. The men’s 8,000-meter race started off the day, and Ferlic set the tone for the Wolverines. His performance helped lead the Wolverines to a second-place finish to complement the women’s first-place title.
“The plan was to delay the start of the season because my track season went so long,” Ferlic said. “My focus is on the championship season, so I felt like I didn’t need the race experience but I just wanted to get in some intense training. So that’s what I did, and it paid off.
“I feel like I’m the most fit I’ve ever been, and I feel like I’m at a point where I can sustain this level and keep it going. This race was an affirmation.”
Ferlic led a tight pack with just 10 seconds between him and the seventh-place finisher, earning his first individual victory since the Notre Dame Blue & Gold Invitational in 2014. His absence has been noticeable in previous events this season, even though it gave several other athletes a chance to shine.
Nine of the 12 Michigan athletes competing made it into the top 50. Fifth-year senior Nick Posada (20th), redshirt sophomore Micah Beller (38th) and redshirt junior Jarred Bratley (53rd) all ran personal bests.
Not to be outdone, the women clinched not only first, but second place as well, with junior Erin Finn and senior Shannon Osika recording times of 16:48.23 and 16:50.09, respectively. The two led the Wolverines to a first-place finish on the 5,000-meter course, making this the eighth straight time Finn has led the team to victory.
Finn only realized it was her teammate that was trailing her during the last moments of the race — something that made the last half-mile more enjoyable.
“Racing against a different team’s athlete is much different than racing against your own,” Finn said. “During the race, it was harder than I thought — I went in with slightly dead legs from practicing too hard. It was definitely a grind, but I just looked ahead and told myself, ‘You’ve done this before, you can do it again.’ I knew it was going to hurt, but I did it.”
On top of Finn’s resilience, five athletes claimed personal records, including Osika, junior Gina Sereno (eighth), redshirt sophomore Sophie Linn (16th), her classmate Jamie Phelan (18th) and senior Taylor Manett (25th).
Michigan women’s head coach Mike McGuire has made the Wolverines’ depth a consistent factor on the team. According to him this weekend was “their best to date.”
“Last year we had a lot of pressure ranked as No. 1, and it got to our heads so we didn’t race as well,” Osika said. “We’re learning to race together and feed off of each other. We are exactly where we need to be fitness-wise. We have been doing some really great workouts and I feel like our progression is escalating.”
The course will be the site of the NCAA Championships on Nov. 21, so the runners felt it helped them prepare for championship season. Both Michigan coaches — Kevin Sullivan for the men’s and McGuire for the women’s — are focused on replicating this win.
And for the men’s squad, they’re looking especially for that Big Ten win after finishing runner-up for the past two years.