A year after surprisingly missing out on the NCAA Championships, the No. 10 Michigan men’s cross-country team came into this season seeking redemption. A top-two finish at the Great Lakes Regional Championship would ensure that the Wolverines would secure an NCAA berth this time around.
Friday afternoon, they got the job done.
At LaVern Gibson Championship Course, Michigan punched its ticket to the national championship with a second-place finish. Led by a platoon of fifth-year seniors, the Wolverines posted an excellent team score of 79. Although No. 13 Michigan State edged Michigan by 11 points, coach Kevin Sullivan isn’t too worried about not winning the meet outright.
“Our focus has been on making nationals. That’s been our focus all year,” Sullivan said. “Today was just getting the job done, qualifying for nationals and keeping everyone healthy.”
As he has all season, fifth-year senior captain Ben Flanagan spearheaded the Michigan effort. Amidst a field of 268 elite runners, Flanagan stormed ahead for a first-place finish. Running with a combination of discipline and ferocity, he pounded his feet across the line with a time of 30:54 — an astonishing six seconds faster than his closest competitor.
“(Flanagan) has got a lot of talent,” Sullivan said. “And he backs that up with a lot of commitment and dedication to better himself in every area, both in athletics and academics. Those are traits that really set him apart.”
Flanagan wasn’t the only Wolverine that excelled, though. Fellow fifth-year senior Connor Mora also finished strong, ending up in seventh place. Three more Michigan runners finished in the top 26 — illustrating their valuable depth, and executing Sullivan’s strategy perfectly.
“We just wanted our guys to be in the main pack, in the all-region spots, and we felt that if we had five guys in the top-25, we’d go back to nationals,” Sullivan said. “We were a little short of that, our fifth guy was one spot out of all-region, but everything else kind of played out the way we planned.”
Next Saturday, Michigan will compete in the national championship race in Louisville. Out of 30 championship appearances, the Wolverines have failed to finish higher than fourth place. They have only finished in the top-10 once since 2004, but Sullivan believes Michigan is capable of it this year.
“Our focus is on trying to be a top-10 team next week,” he said.
If his team can repeat its performance from regionals, that finish is within its grasp.
They just need to get the job done — one last time.