Erin Finn has had no shortage of accomplishments during her time at Michigan. She’s a six-time Big Ten champion and two-time NCAA runner-up in track and field, and her victory on Sunday at the Big Ten Cross Country Championships in Minneapolis, Minn., marked the third individual conference title of her career.

This time, though, she finally got to share her title with the rest of her team.

The senior led the No. 6 Michigan women’s cross country team to its first conference title since 2012, crossing the finish line at the challenging 6,000-meter Les Bolstad Golf Course in 20:37.30, 25 seconds ahead of her closest competitor. With 63 points, the Wolverines edged out No. 9 Penn State, which totaled 70 points.

The Wolverines had already raced this course this season, finishing fifth in tough conditions at the Roy Griak Invitational in September. While the terrain wasn’t as muddy as it was during that race, the soft ground and challenging hills still presented an intimidating obstacle.

“It wasn’t super muddy, but it was slick,” said Michigan coach Mike McGuire. “People fell in the race losing their legs on sidehills or if they were coming into a turn. By no means was it pristine, but everybody had to deal with it.”

Even with Finn’s typically dominant performance, the Wolverines knew that winning a team title would require strong performances from every runner. They were bolstered by redshirt junior Gina Sereno, who placed fourth with a time of 21:07.30 and joined Finn on the all-conference first team after what McGuire described as her best race of the season. 

Also contributing to the Wolverines’ team score was junior Avery Evenson, a second-team all-conference honoree with her 14th place finish, and redshirt juniors Jaimie Phelan and Jamie Morrissey, who finished 19th and 25th, respectively.

Michigan had finished second at the conference championships in 2013 and 2015, and third in 2014. For Finn, after coming so close to a team title the last three seasons, the feeling upon claiming victory this year was one of jubilation.

“I’m so extraordinarily proud of this group of girls,” Finn said. “We’ve worked so hard, and I’m really impressed with the progress we’ve made and the fact that we finally went out and did what we said we were going to do.”

The Big Ten Championships capped off a month full of highlights for Michigan. At the Roy Griak Invitational, the Wolverines finished behind Portland, Michigan State, Penn State and Boise State. They have now defeated three of those teams in their last two races, placing ahead of the Pilots at the adidas Pre-Nationals and topping the Spartans and Nittany Lions on Sunday.

“We knew it was going to be a three team battle going in,” McGuire said. “(Michigan State and Penn State) definitely have been established programs in the conference for the last several years, and we knew it was going to require our best race up to this point in the season.”

McGuire stated that he has been most impressed with the discipline and accountability of his runners, as well as their ability to stay focused and competitive at all times.

“The level of engagement that you see in their eyes and body language, we saw it with all nine (runners),” McGuire said. “We don’t have one taking the day off and putting it on the other eight.

“They’ve been that way throughout the season in practice, and it really reached its zenith today.”

Soon, the Wolverines will have to start preparing for the Great Lakes Regional in Madison, Wisc., on Nov. 11, and the NCAA National Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., on Nov. 19. But for now, they can revel in a hard-earned victory long in the making.

“It’s been so hard to be so close the past two times I’ve competed,” Finn said. “I know everyone has given it their all and just to come up a little bit short has been really tough.

“I’m just so thankful that we were able to put it together this year.”

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