For the second time this season, the No. 20 Michigan men’s cross country team edged out the rest of the competition on the Lavern Gibson Championship Course.
The last time the Wolverines traveled to Terre Haute, Ind. — dubbed Cross Country Town, U.S.A — the team placed second out of four total teams. This weekend the team showed its knowledge of the course and placed fourth out of 37, with an elite field of over 260 athletes.
“I thought it was the first time this season where the whole team came together,” said Michigan coach Kevin Sullivan. “We’ve been struggling to find our identity. Today helped the guys recognize how talented they are. We came off of a really good three weeks of training. The team is getting stronger, and guys are starting to work better together in races.”
The stride was set in the adidas Pre-Nationals — a race Michigan hasn’t participated in since 2008 — by redshirt junior Aaron Baumgarten, who finished eighth with a time of 24:11.8.
“To run that well in that quality of a field, it’s extremely impressive,” Sullivan said. “It puts you in a good position for individuals at Big Tens.”
With championship season fast approaching — and the opportunity to defend their Big Ten title — Sullivan and senior co-captain Connor Mora are excited about the level of improvement they are seeing in practice and in races.
“The main goal was to gain some momentum going into Big Tens,” Mora said. “So, all the guys, myself included, were pretty pleased with their performance. This weekend was a good confidence boost going forward, and shows we can move forward and defend our title.”
Mora was the second Wolverine to cross the finish line, placing 13th — just four seconds behind Baumgarten.
Mora’s success was due, in part, to an updated race strategy. Rather than being more conservative in the first mile, the runner decided to “hang with the lead pack to see how far he could maintain it.” He attributed his high finish to getting a hard start — one Sullivan agreed with.
“He executed his race plan the way he wanted to,” Sullivan said. “He settled in and managed his effort well in the middle, and that allowed him to come in strong in the last mile.”
Added Mora: “With this being my last year, I really just want to get the most out of it. I figured some of my races in the past haven’t worked out the way I wanted, so today was as good a day as any to try something new in my collegiate career.
Other notable performances by the Wolverines this weekend included graduate student transfer Connor Herr (24:52.1) finishing 49th, redshirt junior Billy Bund (24:56.7) in 58th, redshirt freshman Jordy Hewitt (25:06.5) in 73rd and Bund’s classmate Austin Benoit in 79th with a time of 25:08.3. Just 16 seconds separated Herr from Benoit.
This weekend is sure to help improve Michigan’s rankings going into championship season, though Sullivan is quick to denounce them as a tool to push his team forward.
“I look at the rankings, but I really don’t put a lot of time and effort into analyzing,” Sullivan said. “After this weekend, they’ll have a pretty big shake up. It just shows early-season rankings don’t mean a whole lot. These races are solidifying where we should be.”