How does the women’s cross country team follow up its fifth-consecutive Big Ten Tile and a third-place finish in the NCAA Championships?

With a first place finish from a freshman runner who wasn’t around to experience last year’s success.

In her first collegiate race at the Wolverine Open on Friday, Danielle Tauro raced her way to first with a time of 18:22.

“For a freshman to win the whole thing shows how well Danielle ran,” fifth-year senior Erin Webster said.

Four other Michigan runners finished directly behind Tauro to dominate the top five.

“It was great to see the girls with the block ‘M’ on their shirts and to know that they were my teammates,” Tauro said.

Michigan coach Mike McGuire decided to use the Wolverine Open as an early opportunity to test his young runners, resting veterans like Webster, who won the Big Ten Championship last year, and redshirt junior Nicole Edwards, who finished 12th in the NCAA Championship.

“We have a good combination of established veterans and talent of first- and second-year runners, which will make for a good blend,” McGuire said.

Many of the young runners, including Tauro, ran unattached from the University so that they would not exhaust their redshirt in case of an early-season injury. Their success will provide the team versatility and depth later in the season.

“I think in our sport, you need to have a continuation of different individuals step up,” Webster said. “We don’t know who our top five are going to be on any given weekend. It really takes everyone fighting for a spot because you can never guarantee that one individual will be there next weekend.”

Along with the young talent, the team returns a core of senior talent, including senior Alyson Kohlmeier, Edwards and Webster.

“They’re going to be our leaders, no doubt about it,” McGuire said. “They are going to be at the front of the pack in every race.”

Because Michigan’s top runners didn’t compete, little can be inferred about the team from Friday’s race. But the early-season meet proved that the Wolverines don’t necessarily need their best runners to perform well.

The runners who sat out on Friday will join the rest of the team to begin their season Saturday at the Indiana Open.

For now, the young runners can enjoy the success of the first meet. But the veterans are not shy to point out that the season has just begun.

“For being this early in the season, it was a good effort, but we definitely have a lot more to come,” Webster said. “It’s not going to be the best we run all season.”

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