WEST LAFAYETTE – The No. 12 Michigan men’s cross country team faced a deep field at the Big Ten Championships yesterday and finished in third place with 80 points, one point shy of Ohio State. Wisconsin won easily with 25 points, beating out tough competition that included seven teams ranked in the top 30 in the nation.
Sophomore Nathan Brannen and freshman Nick Willis finished third and seventh, respectively, to lead Michigan. Brannen and Willis, who both run 800 meters during track season , stayed back with a larger group of runners but ended the race with a burst to finish in the top seven and receive All-Big Ten first team honors.
Michigan coach Ron Warhurst came away from the meet impressed by Brannen’s and Willis’ continued improvement. Both set personal bests yesterday.
“At 6,000 meters (of an 8,000 meter race) Wisconsin was one through six, and Nate and Nick were about 200 meters back,” Warhurst said. “For young guys that are half-milers, they ran great. Every race they have more confidence and experience and just keep getting better.”
Junior Tom Greenless, Junior Ryan Hesselink and redshirt freshman Sean Moore finished 15th, 26th and 29th for the Wolverines, respectively.
The ease with which Wisconsin won did not surprise Warhurst. The Badgers were finally able to move past a myriad of injuries and boast their full lineup.
“Even though you never know what will happen, I was confident that Wisconsin was not going to get beat,” Warhurst said. “I thought it would be a five-team race for second and as it played out all five of those teams were right there running for second. ”
Michigan heads back to West Lafayette for the NCAA Great Lakes Regional Championship on Nov. 16. The top two teams at the regional qualify for the NCAA Championships, while the rest of the teams hope for at-large bids.
The Wolverines will face an even deeper field at regionals. Joining the seven Big Ten teams ranked in the top 30 will be No. 7 Eastern Michigan, No. 8 Central Michigan and No. 19 Butler. Warhurst is well aware it will difficult to qualify for the NCAA Championships.
“We don’t have to think we need to finish first or second to get the automatic bid,” Warhurst said. “This is a race where eight or nine of the top teams in the country are going for a few spots.”
To reach the top spots, several runners will have to change their strategy.
“So far this season we have been trying to stay together as a group,” Brannen said. “At the regionals, we’ll probably have to split up. Willis and I will stay close to the lead and the other guys will stay with each other. We definitely need to be closer to the front.”