The 11th Michigan women’s cross country team won’t be the highest ranked team at the Big Ten Championships this weekend, but that’s just the way it likes it.
“We want to protect our title,” captain Andrea Parker said. “We enjoy being the underdogs because it makes us more intense for the race. It will be a challenge, but I think we are up for it.”
Last year, the team claimed the Big Ten title by three points over Michigan State — the smallest margin of victory in conference history. Sunday, the team looks to defend its title in Spartan territory at the 23rd Big Ten Championships.
Coach Mike McGuire thinks the team is capable of winning the Big Ten title this year and is expecting Jessie Allen-Young, Lindsey Gallo and Rebecca Walter to spearhead the attack.
“All of the girls have been tested in big meets this season,” McGuire said. “So I know they are ready, it’s just a matter of staying close to the competition. This race will require a total team effort, because there are going to be a lot of fast athletes, and it’s paramount that we race tightly.”
At the 2002 championships, Walter was the top Michigan finisher, finishing in fifth place. She was also named Big Ten Freshman of the Year at the Championships. Now, as a sophomore, Walter sees this year’s race as a chance to prove her abilities.
“There is a bit of pressure to do better than last year,” Walter said. “But I know that I’m a faster runner, and I’ve done a lot of improving. I plan on sticking with the front runners during the race and hopefully finishing ahead of them.”
Michigan is a top contender for the title, but will be in fierce competition with rivals Michigan State, Wisconsin and Penn State, who are also schools ranked in the top 20 nationally.
Penn State runner Molly Landreth will be part of the tough competition this Sunday, as she broke her school record this past weekend and produced one of the fastest times in the Big Ten this season.
But perhaps the two fastest runners to beat will come from Michigan State.
Reigning Big Ten champion Michelle Carson and runner-up Jamie Krzyminski have had solid races this season and are coming in to the Championships strong.
“Carson is a very accomplished runner,” McGuire said. “She’s had some of the fastest times in the conference, and I imagine she’ll win the title again this year. But that won’t stop us from trying to beat her.”
Much of the Wolverines training this season has been geared toward defending their title and holding off the veteran-member Spartan team. McGuire feels that if any time were right for the Championships, it would be now.
“I don’t need to give the brim and fire stone speech before the race,” McGuire said. “The girls know what they need to do. They are relaxed and focused and ready to compete for the title.”
McGuire and his team will face off against the best in the conference at Forest Akers East Golf Course in East Lansing at 10:45 a.m.