TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – On a desolate and windswept Indiana field, the Michigan men’s cross country team made history yesterday, finishing eighth, the team’s highest ever place at an NCAA Championship. The Wolverines were led by sophomore Nate Brannen and freshman Nick Willis, both of whom earned All-America honors by finishing among the race’s top 30. Brannen paced all Wolverines in 30:20.4 to finish in 21st place while New Zealand native Willis finished second among Wolverines in 30:24.7, netting a 22nd overall finish.
Senior Nick Stanko, junior Tom Greenless and redshirt freshman Sean Moore each turned in career-best performances to round out the Wolverines’ top five. Greenless finished 103rd with a time of 31:08.6. Stanko finished 120th in a time of 31:18.1 and Moore finished one place behind Stanko in 31:18.2.
Michigan Coach Ron Warhurst expressed pleasure with the team’s performance.
“We were 19th going in and finished eighth,” Warhurst said. We ran very well.”
Warhurst was pleased by his top five runners and lauded Stanko, Greenless and Moore for running together through the race’s first 3,000 meters and encouraging each other to finish as highly as they did. He also cited Brannen’s improvement, as the Canadian went from 180th last year to 21st this year.
“We peaked at the right time and got rested up. Both factors are very important in cross country,” Warhurst said.
Stanford soared to an NCAA Championship with a low score of 47 points. Several teams that Michigan faced in last week’s regional championships fared well at the NCAAs. Wisconsin finished second with 107 points and local nemesis Eastern Michigan finished third with 165. Central Michigan finished in ninth place with 337 points.
“A lot of teams from our region placed well,” said Warhurst. “Teams from our region captured seven of the 13 at-large bids. It shows that when you run against top competition like we have all season, it makes you prepared to do well in races like this one.”
Colorado’s Jorge Torres edged Arkansas’ Alistair Cragg to win the individual NCAA crown. Torres finished in 29:04.7; Cragg, in 29:06. Stanford’s Grant Robinson took third place in 29:36.7. Eastern Michigan’s Boaz Cheboiwyo finished seventh in 29:46.
Warhurst said he looks forward to next year.
“All nine guys (are) returning,” Warhurst said. “Five redshirts will also be back and we are expecting some strong freshmen recruits. We will have some very competitive practices, but you need that to improve.”
Ryan Gall, a freshman team member unable to qualify for this year’s NCAAs, expressed his optimism about next year.
“I came expecting guys that I had read and looked up to all through high school to put me in my place, but it was just the opposite,” Gall said. “Upperclassmen have been very supportive, and I look forward to working with them to help us out next year.”