As the sound of the gun pierced the fall air and sent a flurry of runners into the opening straight, the Wolverines clad in pink ran to battle against some of the nation’s top programs.
The No. 5 Michigan women’s cross country team took fourth place out of 37 teams, only losing to the other three top-10 teams that were present at the meet: No. 7 Washington, No. 3 BYU, and No. 6 Colorado. It was a strong performance from the Wolverines, but still wasn’t enough, as they were 80 points off first place and never truly in contention for the team title.
“We’re satisfied, but at the same time looking to improve,” said Michigan coach Mike McGuire.
The main problem for the Wolverines was the back half of their top five not moving up enough. Their top runner, freshman Erika VanderLende — who ran the second-fastest time for a freshman at this course in the meet’s history — came in fifth, but their second runner, junior Kathryn House, came in 31 seconds later in 31st place. In comparison, the winning team — the Washington Huskies — put their entire top five ahead of House. Michigan did tie for the most in the meet with six runners in the top 50, but nearly all of that depth was near the back of that group.
“Our key is gonna be our depth moving up a bit,” McGuire said.
However, this doesn’t mean that depth is a problem — in fact it is one of the Wolverines’ strong suits. In the open race, where Michigan used their runners not in the top seven, they showcased this with a one-two finish, and put five runners in the top seven.
“I thought the performances we had in the open race put us in a good position going into Big Tens,” McGuire said.
And, with the regular season coming to a close, giving way to the November postseason, all of the Wolverines’ goals are still attainable. McGuire hopes that the team will hit its stride once the postseason hits.
“We’re happy with the 12 we had today,” McGuire said. “We’ll continue to build on that.”
The race did see some very strong individual performances as well. VanderLende held the lead up until the last kilometer, senior Anna West raced competitively for the first time this season, and junior Jenna Metwalli had what McGuire labeled a “career performance” — coming in 43rd and besting her 6k personal record by 26 seconds.
As Michigan looks ahead to the EMU Fall Classic on Friday and beyond, they know what they have to work on as a team before they can reach their goals.
“We’re excited for the opportunity that’s presented to us going forward,” McGuire said.
And what an opportunity that is.