09/13/05  Correction:

-A story in Monday’s edition of the Daily said Claire Otwell is a freshman. She is a redshirt freshman.

 

For the first 20 seconds after the tape was broken, all anyone could see was maize and blue. The Michigan women’s cross country team swept the field at the Great Meadows Invitational at Great Plains, Va., on Saturday.

Sophomore Alyson Kohlmeier led the Wolverines to their 1-2-3 finish, winning the 5K race with a time of 17:14 and kicking off Michigan’s season on a positive note.

Redshirt freshman Nicole Edwards came in second, followed by Arianne Field, who finished third at 17:34. The Wolverines finished in seven of the eight top spots in the event against Georgetown, Maryland, West Virginia and Howard. The second group of runners consisted of sophomore Erin Webster, senior Ana Gjesdal, junior Jessie Stewart and redshirt freshman Claire Otwell – who finished fifth through eighth, respectively.

“I was surprised,” coach Mike McGuire said. “It was a pretty good feeling because it was a tad unexpected, and it was really great to see in September.”

Kohlmeier’s victory gives her the added reassurance that her summer training in Canada is already paying off. At the start of the race, she wanted to be in position to distance herself from the rest of the pack as the race progressed, to assure that no one would pass her along the home stretch.

“There was a degree of control with what she was doing early,” McGuire said. “She was able to maintain that pace throughout the race, and she looked really strong the whole way. And I think she is just at a whole different level right now.”

Competing in her first official race of her Michigan career, Edwards crossed the finish line 10 seconds after Kohlmeier, good enough for second place. Edwards – a middle-distance runner for the track and field team – showed her talent in the final leg of the race, increasing her speed during the last 800 meters for a strong finish.

Edwards used the race to get acquainted with the cross country course, and neither she nor her coach had any expectations of how it would go. In the end, Edwards wound up surprising everyone – including herself.

“As I was coming to the last mile, I was just still feeling good, so I was focusing on people ahead of me and trying to pass people,” Edwards said. “Then all of a sudden I looked ahead, and I saw Alyson (Kohlmeier), and I’m like ‘Oh my god that’s Ali, I’m in second place.’ Before that, I hadn’t realized I was so far up, and that was just really exciting for me.”

The Wolverines attribute much of their success to the race plan McGuire devised last week. It divided the runners into several clusters, which helped them maintain speed and focus, especially during the first mile. The clusters tended to drift apart as the race progressed. The plan also allowed the teammates to defend against challenges from other teams, since there is always strength in numbers.

“We try to set (the race plan) up around how they prepare and who they have been training with and who they can sustain an effort with throughout the race,” McGuire said. “You run into windows during the course of a race where it can get a little difficult, so, if you have teammates around, you they can pull and push you through – the same way as in practice.”

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