Rounding the corner at the end of the Spartan Invitational in East Lansing on Sept. 16, freshman Justin Switzer felt relaxed even though he had every reason not to be. The cross country race was Switzer’s collegiate debut – his first opportunity to don the Maize and Blue.
“I was calm throughout the race, especially running with the pack of Michigan runners, just being with familiar people,” Switzer said.
Leading a trio of freshman runners, which included Lex Williams and John Black, Switzer posted Michigan’s best time in East Lansing – 25:00 – with the remaining freshmen close behind. Although Switzer led Michigan in the first race, the coaches avoided putting pressure on him to perform at the Roy Griak Individual in Falcon Heights, Minn., last Saturday. They’re also trying to keep the pressure off him in other races, including this weekend’s Notre Dame Invitational.
“We don’t want to put too much pressure on the young guys to perform,” said student coach Nate Brannen. “Our biggest concern is helping them transition from high school to college.”
The trio is adjusting rather easily with their top finishes in the first two races of the season. College races, at eight kilometers, are three kilometers longer then the high school races.
Last weekend, the Michigan freshmen continued to impress. Finishing third for the Wolverines behind sophomore Mike Woods and redshirt freshman Victor Gras, Switzer ran alongside Bauer and Black. With seven first-year runners, three of whom run consistently at the top of the pack, the Wolverines’ expectations for this season are varied. Yet, the season is early and projections are unpredictable.
“We’re a very young squad. I don’t know if we know what to expect,” Brannen said. “We have the potential to surprise a lot of people and do very well. Our goal is to just improve every week.”
At the Griak Invitational, Michigan came in fifth, but, according to Michigan coach Ron Warhurst, the finish for both the Wolverines and Switzer does not spell success for the rest of the season. Furthermore, his coach says that Switzer’s leading finish in the Spartan Invitational does not have significance beyond the opening weekend.
“The first race is just an opportunity to see how everyone feels,” Warhurst said. “It was a fantastic performance by (Switzer). But this past weekend was a great indication of what our team will be like. We had Woods back in and he led the team and the pack, including Swtizer and Gras. Bauer, Black and Williams, who finished within arms length of each other. The three freshmen are running very well together.”