The wintry white of the Thomas Zimmer Championship Course in Madison, Wis. was streaked with maize and blue on Saturday as the men’s and women’s cross country teams competed in the NCAA Championships.
After its fourth consecutive Great Lakes regional title last weekend, the No. 6 women’s team capped off its 2018 season on the national podium with a fourth-place finish behind Colorado, New Mexico and Oregon. The No. 20 men’s team beat its ranking with a 19th-place finish — the fourth top-20 finish in the last five seasons.
Redshirt freshman Camille Davre and fifth-year senior Avery Evenson led the women on the snow-covered course at 29th and 38th, respectively. Those under-40 finishes qualify Davre and Evenson for All-American titles.
“It definitely was tough in that the course had a few inches of snow on it,” said Michigan women’s coach Mike McGuire. “But that’s something that everyone had to navigate.
“We were well prepared knowing that a midwestern city like Madison would possibly present those elements to us, and being from Michigan, it isn’t like we haven’t been in it before.”
This strength in the elements was evident in the Wolverines’ recovery from a difficult start to the six-kilometer race.
“At the start, it felt a little dicey just with the snow and everyone getting out pretty quick,” Davre said. “We kind of got swarmed because we were in the middle of the pack, but I think looking back I was surprised at how good I felt at the halfway point and I kept moving up, looking ahead to the next pack and trying to catch them.”
In the tough terrain of the last two kilometers, Michigan settled into its fourth place position — which held until the end of the race — and edged out the Stanford team that had been nipping at their heels in the final stretch. Ultimately, Michigan finished seven runners in the top 100.
The men’s team was led by All-American sophomore Jack Aho’s 35th-place finish and also highlighted by true freshman John Travers’ 79th-place finish in just the second ten-kilometer race of his cross country career. After a strong start, Aho maintained his place in the pack in the last five kilometers.
Aho’s performance marked a significant improvement from last year's race.
“I had run here last year and finished 122nd, which was alright but nothing crazy,” Aho said. “So I took that experience and knew this year I wanted to get out hard and put myself in contention to be All-American right away.
“You just have to keep your foot on the pedal I guess — that’s how I’d describe my strategy throughout.”
Despite Aho's strong performance, the men's team believed that there was some room for improvement. Its 19th-place finish was the culmination of a season that saw both ups and downs.
“We didn’t necessarily run our best race yesterday,” Aho said. “But I really don’t think we can hang our heads at finishing 19th in the nation.”
“I think it was a good season for us to build off of — we graduated three really high quality seniors from the team last year and so we’ve been in a bit of a rebuilding mode this year,” said men’s coach Kevin Sullivan. “We’ve got everybody back next year and we’re adding some really good parts to the team, so I think the future is very bright for us moving forward.”
Both teams ultimately felt their seasons ended on a positive note, in spite of the snowy conditions.
“It really did help that we were wearing our maize bows,” Davre said. “Just having those colors — the maize and blue — against the snow to keep pulling me and the others forward throughout the race was a tremendous help.”