Nicole Edwards’s hotel room door was covered with posters.

Angela Cesere
The Wolverines will try to win their fifth straight conference title when they compete in the Big Ten Championships in Bloomington on Sunday. (FILE PHOTO)

Before last season’s Big Ten championship meet, motivation from teammates came in the form of colorful signs with inspirational quotes and photos.

“Normally, you get, like, one poster, but our door was completely covered with stuff,” Edwards said. “When you were walking down the hallway, you couldn’t even see the door.

“You want to encourage your teammates, and that’s your chance to boost their confidence.”

Exchanging posters and gifts before the race is a championship meet ritual, one that prepares the team to continue its tradition of Big Ten meet victories. The Wolverines look to win their fifth straight conference title on Oct. 29, when they will face their strongest competition in recent history.

After last weekend’s NCAA Pre-Nationals, coach Mike McGuire said his team “didn’t run as well as in previous meets.” He said the Wolverines are ready to elevate their level of competition in the coming week.

“We don’t have the luxury of having one or two people with off days,” McGuire said. “If that happens next week, we’re going to have a tough time. We’re aware of the fact that we have to fire on more cylinders than we’ve fired on this past week, and we need to be on our best to meet the challenge.”

Nine of the 12 athletes who competed at Pre-Nationals will race at the Big Ten Championships. The top five finishers will earn points for Michigan and determine the team’s final score.

As of Oct. 17, four Big Ten teams – Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois – are ranked in the top nine in the nation. With Michigan State ranked No. 13 and Iowa ranked No. 23, the opposing teams’ talent will be noticeably higher than in past seasons.

“Last year, on paper, it looked to be a two team battle (between Michigan and Illinois), with Minnesota being the third good team,” McGuire said. “This year, it’s a different scenario. There are legitimately four teams that can win it, and Michigan State has an outside chance . (its) first three (athletes) are as formidable as anybody else’s in the conference. It’s going to be a very competitive environment.”

Junior Claire Otwell, running in her first cross country Big Ten championship meet, said that Michigan’s history of success in the meet adds to the importance of next weekend’s race.

“I think that being on top puts more pressure on us because we’re the team to beat,” Otwell said. “I think that other teams have their eye on us, so we need to work hard to make sure that we can stay on top.”

Added Edwards: “If we didn’t win, that would be a huge hit. We don’t even want to think about that as an option.”

Another Big Ten victory for the third-ranked Wolverines would be a successful beginning to the championship-meet season and provide a chance to strengthen their national ranking.

“We definitely have the most talented team since I’ve been here,” said Alyson Kohlmeier, a junior and three-time Big Ten championship athlete. “We have the potential, and we know that it’s possible to win if everyone can step up.”

McGuire agreed that the ability of this year’s squad could set Michigan apart from the other top teams in the conference.

“We embrace the challenge,” McGuire added. “We understand it’s athletics – nothing is handed to you. We have to go out and earn it next Sunday, and I’m confident that we can do that.”

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