Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s goal for the state of Michigan to lead the nation impressed Arianne Field.
The fifth-year senior captain thinks the Michigan women’s cross country team can do the same.
“I want (the University of) Michigan to stand out as a National Champion,” Field said.
The NCAA Great Lakes Regionals are like a primary election.
This Saturday, many teams will compete to represent the Great Lakes region at Nov. 20’s NCAA Championships. Days before the race, teams are finalizing their strategies to claim the two automatic qualifying spots.
The third-ranked Wolverines are adopting a different approach.
As the incumbent champions going into Bowling Green, Michigan has decided to take it easy. After a dominating first-place performance at the Big Ten Championships two weeks ago, Field feels Big Ten coach of the year Mike McGuire is giving the team a “mental break.”
“There’s probably a little bit less pressure (at Regionals),” McGuire said. “And actually, it might not even be that. With the fact that Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa are not in our region, the teams that we’ll pick up in their place might not be collectively as strong as the three we won’t be seeing. So it probably runs itself on paper, it might be a little bit easier as a meet.”
But that doesn’t mean the Wolverines plan on letting up. No. 5 Wisconsin is looking to avenge its 39-point loss at Big Tens. And although Notre Dame isn’t as strong as it has been in the past, the Fighting Irish will challenge Michigan’s run at a third consecutive NCAA Regional title.
The road to Nationals doesn’t get any easier. McGuire has scratched Jenny Morgan and graduate student Katie Gwyther from the lineup. Gwyther – who placed 12th in last year’s NCAA National Championship while running for Quinnipiac – and Morgan won’t compete due to injury and illness.
“It definitely chips away at our depth, which is one of our trademarks of our success,” McGuire said.
Even without Gwyther and Morgan, the Wolverines will still field the lineup that ran at the Big Ten Championship since the remaining races allow just seven competitors. And with fewer runners, the margin of error gets slimmer.
“It’s definitely unnerving to have people injured and not be able to contribute as you thought they were at the beginning of the season,” Field said. “The fact is that we have such depth. The seven girls that are going to run aren’t the ones at the beginning of the season because everyone’s really important.”
With other teams setting up race plans to qualify, McGuire expects a conservative starting pace. McGuire hopes to couple redshirt junior Erin Webster and junior Alyson Kohlmeier in the front pack and have his runners play the field as the race evolves.
“The main thing is to get a good solid effort in,” McGuire said. “You want to get your athletes out of there healthy.”
After running in the hills at Bloomington two weeks ago, the Wolverines won’t face as punishing a course this weekend.
“The only thing we’ll deal with down (in Bowling Green) would be wind since it’s so close to I-75,” McGuire said. “But basically, we’re running a track meet on grass. It’s as flat as can be.”
Without much pressure and without much hype, all Michigan wants to do is win.
“We definitely would like to defend our title and defend Regionals,” Kohlmeier said. “I think winning the week before Nationals gives us confidence, and we’ll just go into Nationals with a better mindset.”
To help build that better attitude, members of Michigan’s track and field team will make the one-hour trip to set up camp and rally the girls.
“There’s nothing like hearing people as you’re running say ‘Go Blue,’ ” Field said.
Matchup: NCAA Regionals
Where: Bowling Green