DEXTER, Mich. — Every time the leading runners broke into open space at the Michigan Open on Saturday, the same four men led the way for the Michigan men’s cross country team. Redshirt junior Aaron Baumgarten, redshirt junior Micah Beller and seniors Ben Flanagan and Connor Mora battled for position throughout the race, with Baumgarten edging Flanagan by just 1.6 seconds.

The pack’s pace-setting effort in their first meet of the year comes as no surprise, though. The group owned four of the top five times for returning Wolverines in the 5k coming into the season, and the upperclassmen will carry a heavy workload throughout the 2016 season.

Though the event was nonscoring, the heavy competition between Baumgarten, Beller, Flanagan and Mora is nothing new either. The four have been running together for four years now and partially credit their success to the constant pushing from their own teammates.

“Throughout all of our workouts and our runs, we really stick together and try to have a pack mentality,” Baumgarten said. “When you’re running with three of your best friends, it’s a lot easier to push yourself harder than you ever have. Working together like that is critical for racing in championship meets.”

Added Michigan coach Kevin Sullivan: “If they get in the habit of working together now, it’s going to help them late in the season. When one guy is on and one guy is feeling a little rough, they can work together and help pull each other along.”

The Michigan Open was not a championship meet. In fact, 21 of the 30 competitors in the meet were Michigan runners. So the Wolverines primarily used it as a tune-up for the remainder of their season.”

“It’s not a high-stress situation for us,” Sullivan said. “We came off of a good two weeks of camp, and we just wanted to get a race, simulation-type effort.”

Michigan will now turn its attention to the Indiana State Sycamore Invitational next weekend, and coming off its first Big Ten Championship since 1998, keeping their eyes set on the future is something that Sullivan and his staff has impressed on the team.

“Last season was obviously great,” Beller said. “But I think the big thing this year was not to let that get in the way of moving the ball even further this year.”

Added Baumgarten: “(Coach Sullivan) has said this before: ‘All right, we were Big Ten champions, we had our moment. That doesn’t mean anything now. It’s about getting a Big Ten Championship this year, getting top ten at nationals this year. We can’t dwell on our past victories.’”

So far, so good for the Wolverines in that regard. And with the four upperclassmen leading the way, the team showed no signs that it will slow down in the 2016 season. 

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