The Michigan women’s cross country team has been surprising teams as of late, soaring to No. 2 in the rankings after beginning the season outside of the top 15. In the NCAA Pre-Nationals, the Wolverines outraced four top-10 teams in then-No. 2 Colorado, No. 4 Oregon, No. 7 Georgetown and No. 9 Stanford.

But this week at the Big Ten Championships in Chicago, it was Michigan that was surprised. No. 15 Penn State squeaked past the Wolverines to claim the title, halting Michigan’s win streak.

The Wolverines finished in second place with 58 points, five behind the Nittany Lions. The two were well ahead of the rest of the competition, as the other 12 teams in the field, including No. 21 Michigan State and No. 22 Minnesota, had at least 104 points.

The course at Sydney R. Marovitz Golf Course was challenging and presented racers with hilly terrain and muddy conditions. But junior Erin Finn didn’t think the difficulty of the course had much to do with her team’s outcome.

“I think we have performed better on more difficult courses because we’re a very strong team,” Finn said. “We can run hills, and we can run through mud. I think more than anything, it just wasn’t our day.”

Finn once again led the pack for Michigan, finishing first to capture her second Big Ten individual title. She became the second athlete in program history to do so — joining decorated alum Katie McGregor, who won the race in 1997 and 1998. Finn’s time of 19:44 was a personal best, 15 seconds faster than her previous for a 6,000-meter race.

“Whenever your name is next to someone like Katie McGregor, it’s definitely very special,” Finn said. “She is an incredible athlete and did incredible things in college and after, so it definitely bodes well for the future. So I’m really excited to kind of follow the path that she followed.”

Redshirt sophomores Jamie Phelan and Gina Sereno rounded out the Wolverine finishers in the top 10, placing eighth and 10th, respectively. Redshirt sophomore Sophie Linn crossed the finish line in 18th place with a time of 20:34. Senior Shannon Osika was the final scoring runner, running a 20:46 clip, good for 21st place. Linn’s performance was the second personal best, along with Finn, out of the scoring five.

The remaining Wolverines in the race — fifth-year senior Anna Pasternak, redshirt sophomore Jamie Morrissey, redshirt sophomore Courtney Munley and senior Taylor Manett placed 23rd, 26th, 29th and 43rd, respectively. Pasternak, Morrissey, and Munley all set personal bests.

“I think everyone ran as well as they could have today,” Finn said. “But I don’t think that was necessarily everyone’s best performance. I think everyone put their all out there today. We all worked really hard. We just didn’t have it today. Penn State was the better team than us, unfortunately.”

Added Michigan coach Mike McGuire: “We had some positives out of it, and we’re healthy, so we just have to move forward from a disappointing result. … It was a situation where Penn State got established, they knew they were leading the race, and they rallied around that. We closed it up a little bit coming home, we were scrapping all the way, but it wasn’t what we hoped for.”

Though the result was disappointing, Michigan isn’t letting the setback get the best of it. McGuire said his team entered the race together as a unit and will leave as one as well. He noted there is still a lot of the season left, giving his team time to improve and perform well once the NCAA Championships come around.

The Wolverines are in a better position this time of the year than they were last season, when two of their top runners were unable to race due to injury. It’s just a matter of having the best race possible from now until the end of the season.

“We just have to trust in our training and trust in our process,” Finn said. “We have to just believe in what we do, and you can’t have a bad day every time out. We’re not going to change much. We’re going to move forward, what’s done is done. We’re disappointed, but not devastated.”

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