Courtesy of the University of Michigan Athletic Department

The Big Ten Championships at the U-M Golf Course last Friday could’ve been the Wolverines’ penultimate race as the season approaches its end. The No. 29 Michigan men’s cross country team faced No. 9 Wisconsin and the rest of the conference at the Wolverines’ home course. Michigan understood the importance of this race, especially with the NCAA Cross Country Championships looming.

The Wolverines finished second as a team in this Big Ten Championship race, giving them their best 8K finish this season. They were slated to finish in this position, but based on the start of the race, they seemed to have a chance at the championship. The Badgers had other ideas.

“(Wisconsin) pushes us every year,” Brady said. “They’re a really strong team, especially at this meet. We knew exactly what was going on. We needed the moves they make (and their) times that push us.”

Michigan was quick to the lead after the start, maintaining first place as a team through the first mile. Freshman Anthony Hancock ran 4:53.7 for first place after the mile, followed by seniors Tom Brady and Nick Foster, with three more Wolverines rounding out the top eight. Michigan dominated the first mile for a team score of 18.

But soon, Wisconsin made sure to remind the Big Ten why it’s ranked No. 9. After the second mile, the Badgers overtook the Wolverines for first with a team score of 23, followed by Michigan in second with 42. Brady moved up to first after two miles with a time of 9:41.4, followed by five Badgers in the top eight. Foster still remained in contention in seventh.

The finish at eight kilometers saw even more movement among the top 15. Brady fell to fourth with a time of 23:52.3, followed by junior Zach Stewart at 24:06.3 for eighth. Foster ended in twelfth with senior Arjun Jha right behind for a second place team finish.

The Wolverines remained competitive with Wisconsin throughout the race. Both teams proved their ranking, but it wasn’t enough for Michigan to top its powerhouse competitor.

“We knew how competitive and talented Wisconsin was, but we also knew the only way to beat them is to try … and run with them,” Michigan coach Kevin Sullivan said. “We couldn’t just let them dictate the race. The objective was to make sure we were in contact (with them). We put ourselves in a position early and came up a little bit short, but (I’m) really proud of the way the guys competed.”

As one of the two nationally ranked teams in the conference, the Wolverines were seeded to place second as a team. This expectation was met thanks to strong performances across the board, especially from Brady as the team’s first finisher.

A second place finish was expected, though it wasn’t the goal. With one guaranteed race left in the season, Michigan will need to finish in the same position or better if it wants to guarantee another race this year. The Wolverines will travel to Terre Haute, Ind. for the NCAA Great Lakes Regional meet, hoping to earn a trip to the NCAA Cross Country Championships in Stillwater, Okla.

Finishing as runner-up in the Big Ten Championships should only fuel Michigan through its regional meet as it tries to punch its ticket. The Wolverines have an aggressive race strategy off the start line, so it will be important for them to continue this in Terre Haute on Nov. 11.

“We’re coming into (the regional meet) in a good spot from a fitness and competitive standpoint but we missed a couple opportunities early in the season to solidify (a spot at the National Championship),” Sullivan said. “We’re going to have to come in and attack regionals and really battle for a top two spot.”

Michigan will have to battle for a second place finish at its regional meet if it wants to extend its season, and maintaining its strong start could prove an effective way to forge a path to Stillwater.