Fifth-year senior Erin Webster and redshirt junior Nicole Edwards weren’t supposed to be among the nation’s top cross country runners.
Webster came to Michigan a non-scholarship athlete with questions about her future in the sport.
“When I came onto the team, I fully expected to be one of the worst runners,” Webster said. “A lot of people make the mistake of joining the team wanting to be the best, but I knew I wasn’t going to be the best. So I joined the team as a great opportunity to improve.”
A year later, Edwards came to Michigan as a highly touted middle-distance runner but wasn’t sure about the transition to cross country. Like Webster had the year before, Edwards was redshirted for her freshman season.
“In Nicole’s case, we had the luxury of redshirting her,” Michigan coach Mike McGuire said. “It is going to turn out to be a real wise move, because now we are going to have her back in year five.”
Throughout their careers, Webster and Edwards have matured as runners, to the point that last season Webster took first at the Big Ten Championship and Edwards finished first at regionals and 12th at the NCAAs.
“They are two runners that have developed within the program,” McGuire said. “Both of them have developed as distance runners over the course of a couple years.”
In her junior season, Webster drastically improved, earning her a spot in the top seven.
“It was awesome to see her become a great runner,” Edwards said. “She came in not highly recruited, but she put in the work and made a big lifestyle change, and all of the sudden, you could see the results.”
Edwards made an impact as a sophomore, taking eighth place at the Big Ten Championship that year. After instant success as a freshman in track, Edwards could label herself a legitimate cross country runner, too.
“She has run anywhere from 600 meters to 12th in the nation in cross country,” McGuire said. “There are not many athletes in the country that have that kind of range.”
Edwards’s transition to longer distances is still a work in progress. She is still more comfortable with shorter races, unlike Webster, who favors longer distances.
Despite the differences, the two will impact the front of the lineup for the second-ranked Wolverines at every meet.
“You know that you are going to have a great start at any meet we are at,” McGuire said. “They are not one-race wonders. They are always going to battle at a high level.”
A lot of the duo’s success can be attributed to McGuire’s coaching. Many coaches tend to focus on certain individuals more than others, but McGuire doesn’t easily give up on a runner, even if she is underdeveloped or not adjusted to longer distances.
“The way Nicole and I have had success with Mike is that he can pinpoint the strengths and the weaknesses of each individual,” Webster said. “If you are willing to dedicate yourself to his program, it is inevitable that you will see results.”
McGuire’s plan has paid dividends with Webster and Edwards. The two have created one of the fastest duos in the nation.
But Webster graduated last spring and seriously doubted whether she wanted to exhaust her final season of eligibility.
“I didn’t know if I could live up to winning the Big Tens and all of the expectations,” Webster said.
After getting away from school, Webster focused on running for herself, and not for competition.
Webster’s return has set the pace for the Wolverines. In her first meet of the year, Webster finished in first with a time of 17:38. Edwards was second at 17:55.
Edwards, who will return next season as a fifth-year senior, hopes to follow in Webster’s footsteps.
“Erin has been one of the top runner in the nation,” Edwards said. “I have to remind myself there is the goal, she is doing awesome and I want to get there.”