The precedent: The No. 6 Michigan women’s cross country team wins the Big Ten Championships.
The problem: The Wolverines finished third at this year’s Big Ten Championship in Columbus and failed to defend their five straight conference titles.
“In the past, we had stepped up at Big Tens,” redshirt junior Nicole Edwards said. “And we had gotten the job done, even when our ranking was lower than this year’s.”
Instead, Minnesota ended Michigan’s reign with 72 points, and Michigan State finished second with 73 points.
Edwards led the Wolverines, finishing seventh (20:17), while fifth-year senior Erin Webster came in at 11th place (20:22).
“I thought we gave the best effort we could, but we just weren’t very good today,” Michigan coach Mike McGuire said. “We were just ordinary. And if you’re ordinary in this conference, you are not going to win it.”
Over the past few years, the rest of the Big Ten has gained ground on Michigan.
“Without question, this is the deepest conference in the country,” McGuire said. “And third place is still a fairly good accomplishment.”
But McGuire was quick to note that there are no excuses for the third-place finish.
“We knew we had a job to do, and unfortunately, we didn’t fire on all cylinders,” McGuire said. “We were aware that would take an outstanding effort to win the race. But we just didn’t do it today.”
The race’s pace was much faster than last year’s when Webster won with a time of 20:23. This year’s champion, Iowa’s Diane Nukuri, ran a 19:37.
Michigan struggled earlier this season with a third-place finish at the NCAA Pre-Nationals and a fourth-place showing at the Notre Dame Invitational. But the Wolverines were confident that they could win their sixth straight conference title. Coming into the season, they were not only preseason favorites for the Big Ten, but for the National Championship.
“In the past we had stepped up at Big Tens, and we had gotten the job done, even when our ranking was lower than this year’s,” Edwards said. “So we knew that we’d done it before, and that’s what I planned on us doing.”
Michigan is a much younger team this season than last year, and four Wolverines were running in their first Big Ten Championship.
In addition to a younger team, Michigan has been without senior Alyson Kohlmeier, who has been redshirted this season because of injury.
“Alyson is sorely missed everyday,” Webster said. “She’s a rare talent, and the team could have really used her at Big Tens and throughout the whole year.”
Michigan will attempt to bounce back on Nov. 10 at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional.
If Michigan fails to qualify for Nationals, it will be the first time since 2001 it won’t compete for a National Championship.
“This doesn’t mean that Michigan isn’t a strong team, and a strong program,” Webster said. “We just weren’t able to achieve that goal of a sixth championship.”