Nate Brannen has been leading packs of runners all year long on
the Michigan men’s cross country team. This weekend was no
different, aside from one minor detail — he had a teammate at
his side. Junior Nick Willis made his season debut Saturday for
Michigan at the Pre-Nationals in Terre Haute, Ind., and showed no
signs of early-season rust as he joined Brannen among the top-three
finishers.

Brannen finished second in the field of 242 runners — just
two seconds behind Stanford’s Ryan Hall — with a
personal-best time of 23:56.8. Willis was right behind, clocking in
at 23:58.5. Despite that solid finish at the top, No. 5 Michigan
had to settle for a third-place team finish, coming in with a total
of 188 points. Stanford cruised into first with 77 points, while
Notre Dame snuck past the Wolverines for a second place finish with
165 points.

“We were great up front all race long,” Michigan
coach Ron Warhurst said. “We were a little loose in the
middle though, and we won’t get any better until our third
through seventh guys start posting better times.”

Freshman Mike Woods was the next Wolverine to cross the finish
line. He grabbed a 42nd place finish with a personal-best time of
24:55.4. Senior Jonathon Kieliszak was six seconds behind at
25:01.0, also a personal-best. That was good enough for a 52nd
place finish. Rondell Ruff rounding out the top-five for Michigan.
The redshirt sophomore grabbed 89th place and scored points for the
first time as a Wolverine with a time of 25:12.8.

Despite the personal-best times from over half of the scoring
Wolverines, a major discrepancy existed between the scores of the
Brannen and Willis duo and the rest of the Wolverines. Brannen
feels that he may know what contributes to this gap.

“I think our middle guys may be getting a little
tired.” He says, “Everyone has been training very hard
and it’s just really difficult to tell when we all are going
to peak.”

Although fatigue may be a factor now, Brannen remains optimistic
that it is only temporary.

“The one-minute gap between our first and fifth guy was a
pretty big gap to overcome today,” he said. “But
I’m confident that we can get our mileage up before Nationals
and close in on that gap.”

Although optimism is clearly present among the Wolverines, they
do not make excuses for unsatisfactory races. The weather on
Saturday was less than pleasant, with high winds and cold
temperatures. But Coach Warhurst would not allow anyone to blame it
as a factor in the Wolverines’ less-than-stellar
performance.

“Everyone runs in the same weather, it is not a factor at
all,” Warhurst said. “It may make the times a little
slower, but it has the same effect on everyone.”

Nate Brannen went a step further, saying that it actually may
have played to their advantage.

“The weather is not a disadvantage to us at all.”
Brannen said, “Being from Michigan, we train in this
(weather) more frequently than the Southern schools do, so if
anything, it may even help us.”

Although Michigan’s No. 5 ranking may drop after this
weekend’s performance, there is no sign of panic in Ann
Arbor. The Wolverines know what has to be fixed. And with five
weeks to go until the NCAA Championships, there is time to get back
on the winning track.

“We just can’t have two horses pulling the
wagon,” Warhurst says, “We need to have
five.”

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