Two weeks ago, the Michigan women’s cross country team dominated the competition in Louisville, Ky. This weekend, the athletes are headed back looking to repeat their performance.

On Oct. 3 at the Greater Louisville Classic, the women clinched first and second place with junior Erin Finn and senior Shannon Osika recording times of 16:48.23 and 16:50.09, respectively. Osika ran a personal best. The two led Michigan to a first-place finish on the 5,000-meter course — the eighth time Finn has led the team to victory. 

“Last weekend was awesome,” said fifth-year senior Devon Hoppe, who did not compete but followed from home as the team saves her for competitions later in the season. “It was just so great. I called (Michigan coach Mike McGuire) right after the race, and he had nothing but good things to say based not only on time, but on effort. He can see it if you’re working hard and if you’re giving 110 percent.”

The Wolverines will visit the Louisville course three times this year, which is slightly unusual. But the team wants to be sure that when it runs the course for the NCAA Championships in November, it’s prepared. Michigan considers the two times it has been going to Louisville before the NCAA Championships to be “preview meets.”

For the past two years, the women have run the NCAA Championships at Terre Haute, Ind. The last time the championships were held in Louisville was during the 2012-2013 season, when most athletes on the current Michigan roster were not on the team.

The women have a challenge ahead of them for this weekend and for the long-anticipated championships. Michigan men’s cross country coach, Kevin Sullivan, highlighted the unique challenges that this course holds for the runners. 

“I think (the course) requires you to be agressive early in the race,” Sullivan said. “It’s a very demanding tactile first mile. In most races, you don’t lose the race in the first mile, but (in Louisville), you can get yourself out of the competition in the first mile if you’re not careful.” 

Adding to the difficulty, the ground is packed harder than most courses, so if the weather is rainy during the race, it could be quite possible to see some runners losing their shoes when the course gets muddy. 

Another quirk in the track is that the field is flat with quick turns. Because of the way the course is designed, the women’s team will try to run in groups of threes or fours. 

“We’re just in the mindset this year of running with the girls who you’ve been training with,” Hoppe said. “Our team does everything together. During the race, there are a bunch of ups and downs both mentally and physically. But it’s knowing that your teammates are there that really helps. You’re going to be so much more successful (running with your team) than if you’re running with people wearing different colored shirts. This season, we’ve really been focusing on clumping together.”

But rain or shine, the race will start early Saturday morning. And the team is definitely prepared to race past the competition — again.

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