By Max Bultman, For the Daily
Published October 31, 2013
At last season’s Big Ten Championship, then-sophomore Mason Ferlic watched his Michigan men’s cross country team run to a second-place finish — the Wolverines’ best since 2008. Held out of competition with a broken foot, Ferlic stood idly by while teammates Morsi Rayyan and Mark Beams earned second-team All-Big Ten honors behind then-senior Dan Lowry, who finished fifth overall. This season, Ferlic is healthy and primed to lead the Wolverines into the championship season, beginning Sunday in West Lafayette.
“It was tough,” Ferlic said. “We were threatening to do big things and having to sit out and watch from the sideline definitely made me hungry.”
That hunger has fueled Ferlic all season long, as he owns the fastest eight-kilometer time in the Big Ten this season, 23:35. Running alongside Ferlic will be at least two members from No. 7 Wisconsin, Malachy Schrobligen and Michael VanVoorhis, with times of 23:38 and 23:39, respectively.
The Badgers beat Michigan last year and should be favored to come away with another title on Sunday, but they will need to be prepared for a tough, gritty race.
Aside from Ferlic and the Wolverines, redshirt freshman Carl Smith will lead No. 24 Indiana into West Lafayette for what figures to be an entertaining three-way battle for the team title between the Hoosiers, Badgers and Wolverines.
In cross country, conference championship meets are often full of surprises because coaches don’t always race their top runners during the regular season, instead electing for “B-teamers” to run at early meets while some members of the “A” squad keep training. As a result, athletes see large improvements in their time come championship season.
Michigan’s depth will be key as it takes on a Badger lineup with plenty of speed.
“In the past we’ve talked with certain individuals about what first-team and second-team All-Big Ten is, but we’re moving beyond that,” said Michigan coach Alex Gibby. “Our goals this weekend are entirely team-focused. We’ve arrived, we’ve earned the opportunity to move that direction, and I personally believe we’ve got some big steps coming out of a variety of guys.”
One such runner could be redshirt junior James Yau, who is the only member of the Michigan team competing this weekend who has seen this course already, racing earlier this season at the Purdue Invitational.
“This is by far and away one of his best seasons at Michigan since he’s been here,” Gibby said. “He’s taken a little bit more of a leadership role on and off the course, and so I’m really curious to see what he can do during the championship portion of the year because there’s a step left in him both mentally and physically.”
Yau figures to be part of a strong Michigan pack made up of Rayyan, freshmen Cory Glines and Connor Mora and redshirt sophomore August Pappas, all of whom have been within 15 seconds of one another this season. Sophomore Tony Smoragiewicz, who was a part of the Wolverines’ second-place finish last season but has yet to compete in 2013, will also be added into the fold this weekend.
“Big Ten is always an awesome race to run at,” Ferlic said. “You’ve got some of the best teams in the country. With the energy, the crowd and the support, the atmosphere is just unbelievable.
“I’ve got a game face on at this point, waiting for the gun to go off. I’ve done everything, I’m ready to run, the team’s ready to run.”
Gibby has the team well prepared, thanks in part to the early look at the course the Wolverines got this season, but he recognizes that early look is just half the battle.
“Getting to see the course early in the season has been really valuable as far as getting to structure the race plan,” Gibby said. “But, if you are balanced mentally and ready to line up, then you will adjust and adapt to any course out there.”