Jack Aho kicked into full gear, edging ahead of the crowd in the final stretch of the 6.2-mile NCAA Championship race. As the end approached, the junior burst into form, finishing the course at 40th place, just enough to clinch All-American honors for the second straight year.
The final race of the season proved to be one of the strongest performances of the year for the No. 16 Michigan men’s cross country team, which finished seventh out of 31 teams for the Wolverines’ highest finish at the championships since 1999. When asked what stood out about this team that allowed them to have such success, Michigan coach Kevin Sullivan singled out a handful of his runners.
“(Junior) Devin Meyrer, who’s been one of our captains this year, has been one of the biggest leaders on the team,” Sullivan said. “He’s also been our No. 1 runner in every race but one. (Senior) Isaac Harding and Jack Aho have also both consistently improved throughout the season, and (junior) Joost (Plaetinck) has had a breakout year for us. They’ve really been a force for us, especially the last four meets of the season.”
Aho and Meyrer both finished in the top-40, which automatically grants a runner All-American honors. Meanwhile, Harding just missed the cut at 44th place, and senior Jordy Hewitt and Plaetinck also ran to strong finishes at 96th and 101st, respectively. The team’s strong finish came as no surprise to Sullivan, who expressed strong confidence in his team’s abilities.
“Every one of our guys ran the way I knew they could run.” Sullivan said. “I think its fantastic that we had two All-Americans in Devin Meyrer and Jack Aho. When you factor in that Isaac Harding just missed out, we were this close to having three All-Americans. It wasn’t so much that anybody ran better than expectations as much as it was that we all came and put our best races together on the same day. That’s what it takes to perform well as a team.”
The team carried significant momentum into the NCAA Championships, with big finishes in each of the past two weeks. The previous week, with bids to the championships on the line, Michigan finished third out of 29 teams at the Great Lakes Invitational. In doing so, the Wolverines beat out Indiana and Wisconsin, two teams ranked higher at the time, and clinched their eighth appearance at the championship meet in the past nine years.
The week before that, Michigan finished in third place at the Big Ten Championships, scoring higher than a Purdue team ranked in the top 10 at the time of the race. This string of meets allowed the team to achieve one of its preseason goals – finishing in the top 10 at the championships.
“The nice thing about our team is that they always kept their composure and felt they could be a top-10 team,” Sullivan said. “This was something our team never lost sight of throughout the course of the year. This was the stage where our performance really mattered.
“It was one last opportunity to end the season strong, and we took advantage of that.”