MINNEAPOLIS – On a dark and rainy Sunday at the University of Minnesota golf course the No. 3 Michigan women’s cross country team overcame tough weather conditions to claim the Big Ten Championship in an impressive postseason opener. The title was the fourth consecutive for the Wolverines as the national contenders placed five runners in the top-14.
“We prepared well for this week and the girls ran a good race out there,” coach Mike McGuire said. “I think Aly (Kohlmeier) was a little disappointed not winning it all, but she ran strong and a lot of our girls had some of their better showings this season.”
Sophomore Alyson Kohlmeier battled with Illinois junior Cassie Hunt for the top spot for the duration of the race. At one point, Kolhmeier was stride for stride with the three-time all American in the final minutes of the race and actually held the lead for thirty seconds before Hunt was able to overcome her and take first place. While Kolhmeier could not capture the individual title she did pace Michigan with a time of 21:02:74 and a second-place finish. Following Kolhmeier was a cast of Wolverines keying the well-balanced victory that included redshirt sophomore Erin Webster, redshirt freshman Nicole Edwards, senior Rebecca Walter, and redshirt junior Arianne Field who finished seventh, eighth, 11th, and 14th, respectively.
“I was really impressed with Webster and Edwards,” McGuire said. “I think those girls probably ran their best races of the year out there today. “And I heard that Stewart fell, so I was really impressed that she was able to get back in the race and finish well.”
McGuire heard right. While senior Jessie Stewart was the lone Wolverine to hit the deck, other runners experienced similar difficulties maintaining their footing on a course that was muddy and saturated from rain that fell all morning leading up to the race.
“I was really worried about falling at times,” Edwards said. “Coming down some of those hills you really had to be cautious where you were stepping. Overall, it just made the race feel a lot slower.”
While the race may have been slower, it certainly didn’t slow the Wolverines. Michigan came into the conference championship having won or tied for first in all four of its team scoring events this season. It is the kind of success that has been accomplished by working together out on the course.
“We run in waves out there to help pace our girls,” McGuire said. “The girls in our front did a real solid job.”
Those girls were finally awarded for their dominance. Kolhmeier and Webster automatically qualified for all-Big Ten selection by finishing in the top seven. But, while the front of the pack ran as planned for the Wolverines, there was some cause for concern in the back.
“I was a little disappointed with our third wave,” McGuire said. “They got out of the box too slow and just had too much to make up down the stretch. We won’t win anything at the NCAA if our third wave doesn’t run better.”
With the regional and NCAA championship meets coming up, players and coaches agreed that tightening up the back of pack will be essential if they are to be successful on the more competitive stages. While there is a championship in hand, much work needs to be done if the Wolverines are going to live up to their expectations beyond this weekend.
“The next two weeks of training are going to be important,” Edwards said. “We need to be just as prepared as everyone if we’re going to be successful.”
If this past season and their showing in the Big Ten Championship are any indication, Michigan will be prepared to do more damage in the postseason.