With temperatures in the 40s and moderate wind gusts, the weather may not have been ideal for a golf game — but they were prime conditions for the No. 9 Michigan men’s cross country team to host the Big Ten Championships yesterday at the University of Michigan Golf Course in front of over 2,000 fans.
The Wolverines placed second (57) behind Wisconsin (40) in a meet that was close until the finish line. Minnesota’s Hassan Mead finished the difficult 8,000-meter first overall (24:26).
Michigan believed that the home-field advantage would be critical to end Wisconsin’s dominance in the Big Ten for the last decade. The Badgers have been crowned conference champions every year since 1999.
Many cross country alums attended the race, hoping to see Michigan win its first title since 1998, the year before the Badgers started their Big Ten winning streak.
Redshirt junior Sean McNamara paced the Wolverines with a sixth-place finish (24:48), earning him All-Big Ten first-team honors. Behind McNamara were senior Justin Switzer in tenth (24:53), redshirt sophomore Ciaran O’Lionaird (24:56) and sophomore Craig Forys, who finished 11th and 12th, respectively.
“I’m disappointed in the score, but I’m not disappointed with the team,” Warhurst said. “We thought we had a shot and came up a little short. It doesn’t take away with the way the kids performed in the race.”
The Wolverines started the meet in a tight pack. The first mile’s slow pace indicated the difficulty of the course, which Warhurst described as one of the toughest in the nation. It features many rolling hills and forces runners to alter their strategies, especially those who excel on flatter routes.
At 5,000 meters, Michigan started to pull away from the rest of the field. With 2,000 meters to go, the Wolverines had three runners in the top eight and seven in the top 15. It seemed the Wolverines had secured the Big Ten title and ended Wisconsin’s reign.
“We were really keying off Wisconsin,” McNamara said. “Last year, we were the hunted — this year we wanted to be the hunter.”
But Wisconsin closed the gap within the final two kilometers to capture a conference-record 10th straight Big Ten title. The Badgers’ Landon Peacock pulled away from the field at 6,000 meters and his teammates followed his lead.
The Wolverines finished with four in the top 15. However, Michigan needed a strong performance from senior and co-captain Lex Williams in order to have a chance at passing the Badgers for the title. Williams finished a disappointing 47th place (25:39), after suffering several small injuries.
The Wolverines will face their next test Nov. 15 at NCAA Regionals, aiming to qualify for Nationals on Nov. 24.
“We’re not going to kill each other at regionals,” Warhurst said. “Our goal is to advance to Nationals.”