WEST LAFAYETTE – Returning to Purdue’s campus for the second time in two weeks, the Wolverines were no strangers to the Boilermakers’ hilly course. In West Lafayette, the Michigan men’s cross country team clocked in with a strong sixth place finish at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional.
Up against such strong teams as No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 7 Eastern Michigan, the Wolverines did not win an automatic berth to the NCAA Championships scheduled for next Monday in Terre Haute, Ind. However, Michigan coach Ron Warhurst is confident that his team will win one of the 13 remaining at-large bids for the Finals.
“Our region is one of the strongest in the nation and I’m expecting six or seven of the 13 bids will go to teams in the Great Lakes,” Warhurst said.
Central Michigan, Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan are each hoping to win one of those bids.
Sophomore Nate Brannen and freshman Nick Willis led the Wolverines to a total of 143. Brannen, who has been the team’s top finisher this season, had a time of 30:44.2, a personal best for the Canadian native.
“I was pretty confident in my race, but I didn’t push myself too hard,” Brannen said, “I wanted to save my energy for next week (at the championships).”
He finished fifth overall, quite a feat considering there were 31 other teams running the course.
Despite this being Willis’ first 10,000-meter race in his career, he had an excellent run that secured him sixth place overall, just behind his teammate ,Brannen.
“Even though I would have liked the team to have done better, I was very happy with my race,” Willis said.
Two weeks ago, the course spanned just 8,000 meters. But this week 2,000 meters were added, creating a need for more endurance from the runners.
“I really didn’t mind the longer course, the extra time gave me a breather in the middle to pace myself,” Willis said.
Team captain Nick Stanko and junior Tom Greenless also completed powerful races for the Wolverines. Stanko with a time of 31:31.9 came in 32nd, and Greenless came in 40th place at 31:40.9.
Following them were sophomores Sean Moore and Tarn Leach and senior Ryan Hesselink, who stayed strong until the end by running together in a pack.
Because the team was in Boilermaker territory just two weeks ago for the Big Ten Championships, the course was nothing new to the Wolverines.
“It’s always an advantage to know the course,” Brannen said.
The course, which had many hills and switchbacks, was even more of a challenge Saturday because of the muddy ground and cold temperatures.
“My hands were frozen for the first half of the race,” Willis said.
The announcement of the 13 remaining teams that will go the NCAAs is scheduled for today. Assuming that the team wins a bid, Warhurst will be pushing his team hard this week for the culmination of the cross country season.
“I think the team ran a bit conservatively (at the Great Lakes Regionals) so I’d like to see them give it all they’ve got next week at the championships,” Warhurst said. “It would be great to see the middle of the pack runners tough it out to have an even better finish in Terre Haute.”
On the whole, the men’s cross country team had an improved showing at the Great Lakes Regionals, and is expecting to be competing next week in Terre Haute for the NCAA title.
“Our strategy (for the Great Lakes Regionals) was to run comfortably and to get in the running for an NCAA bid, and I think we did just that,” Warhurst said.