Disappointing finishes at the conference meet are now a thing of the past.

A year after finishing near the bottom of the Big Ten, the No. 21 Michigan men’s cross country team surprised many teams by tying Minnesota for third at the Big Ten Championships in Champaign on Sunday.

“I was pretty pleased,” said Michigan coach Alex Gibby. “Going in, I thought we were probably seeded in the fourth or fifth range in terms of past performance. Minnesota has been a tough nut to crack traditionally over the years, so I thought third was probably best case scenario with the group we had this year.”

Fifth-year senior Craig Forys finished first for the Wolverines in 23:47 for the 8,000-meter race. He placed eighth overall, and senior Bobby Aprill trailed seconds behind in ninth. The pair were the only two Wolverines garnering All-Big Ten second team honors for finishing in the top-12.

Rounding out the Wolverines’ top five finishers were redshirt sophomore Brendon Blacklaws (23rd), sophomore Morsi Rayyan (31st), and junior Zach Ornelas (33rd).

“Ornelas, Aprill, and Forys were outstanding,” Gibby said. “(There were) big performances from Ornelas and Rayyan, with their best races in Michigan uniform to date. Aprill and Forys went back-to-back All-Big Ten for the second year in a row. I was really pleased.”

Forys was enthusiastic that the Wolverines raced so well.

“It was probably our best race of the season, definitely way better than our performance last year,” Forys said. “Our back (runners) was so much better, and we finished third this year compared to eighth last year. It was a huge improvement for our guys, and definitely they ran a smart race — a competitive race — and we’re super happy tying Minnesota.”

As Gibby and the rest of the Wolverines squad were pleased with its finish, he said they still need to keep it up.

“Right now the primary concern is the bounce-back physically and emotionally from this weekend,” Gibby said. “We’ll get one significant training session on Thursday to make sure we maintain the adaptations (to the 10,000-meter race) we’ve already forged. We just want to make sure we stay sharp.”

For the remainder of the season, the team will be running 10,000 meters, as opposed to the 8,000-meter race seen at the Big Ten Championship. Gibby believes it will be to their advantage because of the type of training the Wolverines have done over the course of the season.

Some of the runners are also happy about the switch to 10,000 meters.

“I’m kind of excited,” Aprill said. “We’ve had a lot more focus on longer distances and I think we’re gonna be a lot more prepared. I’m kind of excited to see how all of our training translates into a longer race.”

Looking forward to NCAA Regionals, Gibby thinks the Wolverines can keep getting better by having more runners improve. He said the team can keep relying on the top runners, but the other Wolverines can be “added to the mix” by continuing their hard work over the course of the next two weeks before regionals.

First, the Wolverines have to do well in regionals to qualify for NCAA Nationals later in November. But Michigan isn’t concerned about qualifying, and Gibby thinks a top-20 finish is reasonable.

“There are probably four or five really good teams in the country, probably another five or six contenders in the top ten; after that it’s a pretty wide open field. What we wanna do is execute our race plan,” Gibby said.

“I have confidence that if we do what we’re supposed to do, we continue to execute, we stay stable emotionally, we’re on top of things physically, I’m confident we can surprise people.”

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