One point — that’s all it took.
One point could have made the difference between a shot at a national title and a season’s end. But, luckily for the Michigan men’s cross country team, it didn’t. And now, it has one more race.
On Friday, the Wolverines entered the NCAA Great Lakes Regional unranked, with a chance to prove themselves against some of the nation’s best and show they belonged at the NCAA Championships.
They did just that with their best performance of the season, coming in third place, one point behind Notre Dame and seven behind Purdue. The third-place finish — while not automatically qualifying the team — put Michigan in a great position to be selected for one of 13 at large spots. The Wolverines got one of those bids and will now compete next Saturday at the Championships for the third-straight year.
“Our guys did a good job of injecting themselves in the race and being competitive,” said Michigan head coach Kevin Sullivan after the Eastern Michigan Fall Classic on Oct. 25 — a quote that rang true again on Friday.
Inject themselves into the race they did. The Wolverines got near the front of the pack early with six runners in the top 30 at the two-kilometer mark. This set the tone for the rest of the race, as they never relinquished their hold on third place.
This consistency wasn’t the only thing that shined for Michigan. It also had a strong finish, staving off Indiana by a single point, and Wisconsin by 10.
The result showed that the team had grown significantly since the Big Ten Championships just two weeks prior. There, the Wolverines lost to both the Badgers and Hoosiers by 22 and eight points, respectively. On Friday, that wasn’t the case, as Michigan beat those two teams, with an ability to put more runners in the top 20.
Particular individuals shined for Michigan in the team effort as well. Junior Isaac Harding lead the charge in ninth. He was followed closely by junior Devin Meyrer in 11th, junior Jack Aho in 17th, senior Jordy Hewitt in 18th and junior Joost Plaetinck in 31st to round out the Wolverines’ top five. Hewitt showed great improvement over last year’s regional, where he came in 33rd.
This result doesn’t necessarily come as a surprise, as Michigan has shown consistent growth throughout the season, but it also wasn’t expected. The Wolverines were not ranked coming into Friday’s meet and were the only such team to finish in the top five.
At the end of the day, with cross country being a sport that can ultimately come down to just how good of a day you have, this performance isn’t necessarily indicative of what will happen come Saturday. But it did give Michigan a chance.
And that’s all you can ask for.