Talk at the start of any season usually centers on the optimistic predictions for the upcoming campaign. And it’s no different with the men’s cross-country team.
Last year, the team faltered mightily, failing to qualify for the NCAA championships for just the second time in 15 years. In addition, just one runner made the field as an individual automatic qualifier.
The 2005 squad had a number of freshman who made the immediate jump from running in high school to competing at the collegiate level.
Whereas high school cross-country races are five kilometers, college cross country courses are 10 kilometers.
With that jump in distance, training mileage must increase accordingly.
A freshman-laden team can have trouble adjusting going from the 50-60 miles per week run in high school to the nearly 100 per week needed for college.
Now with a year of experience, the coaching staff is optimistic that the younger guys have finally made the jump.
“Last year at this time we were running about 65-70 (miles per week), but right now we’re averaging about 104 miles a week,” Michigan coach Ron Warhurst said. “That’s going to be the difference.”
Warhurst has been particularly impressed with the improvement made by redshirt freshmen Brandon Fellows and Sean McNamara and sophomores Lex Williams and John Black.
“Those kids really grew up a lot over the summer,” Warhurst said. “They went through the growing pains last year, and I think they are adjusted to it now. And I think they are just as excited about it as I am. They have the mentality that they aren’t afraid of the 10,000 meters.”
Junior Mike Woods will help lead those talented youngsters.
His performance last season was one of the few bright spots for the Wolverines. Not only did he qualify for the NCAAs, but he also finished 129 spots ahead of his 2004 showing, placing 55th overall. In proving himself as the most consistent runner on the team, Woods was named captain by Warhurst alongside senior Andrew Bauer.
Woods comes into the 2006 cross-country season brimming with confidence. Over the summer, he lived in Germany and raced all around Europe.
In the process, he set a new personal record in the mile, running a 3:39.70. Even though his success occurred on the track, Woods thinks it will translate to the cross-country season.
“It gave me a lot of confidence, because there aren’t a lot of guys on the cross-country scene who can run within two seconds of (3:39.70),” Woods said. “I have to start realizing that if I can run these times on the track, why can’t I run them in cross country?”
The immediate results for the team seem to indicate that there have been some positive changes from last year.
With Woods out of the lineup after a summer of racing, Michigan still had the seven best times at the Michigan Open last weekend. But it will be another month before the team can really erase the memories of a disappointing 2005.
“The first important race for us is the (NCAA) Pre-Nationals (on Oct. 14),” Warhurst said. “Then we’ll get a better idea of how we stack up nationally, and whether these guys can handle the pressure of the big time races. We’ll just have to wait and see how it goes.”