Its training has changed.
Its attitude has changed.
Now, the No. 18 Michigan men’s cross country team is confident the results will change this weekend at the Big Ten Championships.
Last year’s fifth place finish was extremely disappointing for the Wolverines.
“We were young and really inexperienced,” said junior co-captain Mike Woods, explaining last year’s performance.
Sophomore Lex Williams added that the team was running tired last year, which is why coach Ron Warhurst changed the way the team practiced this season.
Warhurst is decreasing the mileage that the team runs leading up to the meet so that Michigan will not be running tired again.
But this is not the biggest change to the training regiment. Earlier in the season, Warhurst had the team running 40 more miles per week than it did last year, increasing the Wolverines mileage from 65 to 100-105 miles per week in order to establish a good base for postseason meets.
“Their (No. 18 Michigan and No. 1 Wisconsin) high school times were similar so it was a matter of upping the mileage.” Warhurst said. “You’re not going to beat them running 60 when they’re running 120 and they’re just as talented.”
But the change in training by itself is not enough. The Wolverines have altered their attitude on the course and now they know that they can run with the best.
“It’s a new team compared to last year,” Woods said. “Our freshmen (and redshirt freshmen) have really stepped it up. . We’re fearless. We’re a kamikaze team.”
And Woods will definitely be running with that attitude against the favored, but beatable, defending national champion Badgers this weekend.
“Wisconsin has a lot of things up in the air,” Woods said. “The team hasn’t seen three or four runners yet, so I think they’re vulnerable. . I think we have a shot to win.”
Warhurst doesn’t know what to expect from these untested Wisconsin runners. He says they could either be injured, diamonds in the rough or anything in between.
“We’ll know 15 minutes into the race,” Warhurst added. “And if (Wisconsin runners Tim Nelson and Matt Withrow) are out, then they are vulnerable.”
The last thing Michigan is changing this weekend is its strategy to take down Wisconsin – or at least finish in second.
Williams believes that if Michigan has a few runners (most likely Williams and Woods, according to Warhurst) running with the Wisconsin pack in the top 10, and the Wolverine pack follows up to finish in the teens, then the Maize and Blue have a shot at bringing home a Big Ten Championship.
But despite the team’s confidence, beating the top-ranked Badgers will be a difficult task. With four returning All-Americans and the potential individual national champion on its team, Wisconsin is the favorite to defend its national title.
“I don’t know if we have the firepower to beat them,” Warhurst said. “It’s an uphill battle to think we can beat them.”
Even with the changes in training and attitude, one thing that hasn’t changed from last year is Warhurst’s expectation for Michigan on Sunday: “For the boys to run their ass off.”