Sweat.

Blisters.

Gallons of water.

This is the life of a Michigan cross country runner. The team is racing toward its goal of a second or third place Big Ten finish with seven freshmen runners, and Lex Williams and Justin Switzer lead the rookie class.

“They can make a huge difference this year,” senior captain Andrew Bauer said. “All of them logged a lot of miles over the summer.”

With all these younger runners in the mix, the upperclassmen are determined to contribute to the team at a higher level. This summer, Bauer and fifth-year senior captain Rondell Ruff have logged more miles than ever before in their collegiate careers. Bauer stepped it up and ran an average of 80 miles per week – including stretches where he topped out at 90 miles in a week.

Even though Bauer and Ruff lead the team, Williams and Switzer have shown themselves to be capable of taking a big role during practice.

The young runners – from Ann Arbor and Waterford, respectively – have confidently planted themselves at the front of the pack in all of the team’s workouts so far.

Some of their confidence might come from the cohesive group the freshmen have formed.

“We all live in the same hall and eat meals together,” Williams said. “It’s just such a big and comforting group that has really eased the adjustment to college and to the team. We work hard every day, but I felt prepared coming into preseason because I built up my mileage all summer.”

Running with such a big group of strong runners is something new for the freshmen.

In high school they were the stars of their teams and had to hold themselves back to practice with the pack. At Michigan, they have the opportunity to grow under the tutelage of the seven upperclassmen on the team, especially Bauer and Ruff. Training with such experienced runners has reminded all the freshmen how important it is to be part of a team.

“I just want to be able to contribute to the team as much as I can,” Williams said. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to score in a few meets.”

With the team heading to East Lansing for a non-scoring event this Friday, the first-year runners have the chance to prove themselves to the team and discover their roles. Bauer hopes the team can stay in a pack and run a strong race. The meet will be a jumping off point for the team as it tries to drive back to elite status in the Big Ten.

Michigan has high hopes, but first place in the Big Ten has practically been conceded to perennial powerhouse Wisconsin, which has won the conference championship every year since 2002.

“They have been practically unbeatable for the past four or five years,” Bauer said. “We are realistically hoping to finish in second or third place in the conference.”

Bauer knows that the team will have to surprise a lot of people this year to achieve its goals. Many outsiders think this a rebuilding year for the program, but the squad said it’s determined to show the conference that youth doesn’t negate speed and dedication.

 

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