TERRE HAUTE, Ind. The men”s cross country team earned its rightful place on the starting line of the NCAA national meet on Saturday, by placing second in a tough Great Lakes regional. Its effort automatically qualifies it for the finals one week from today in Greenville, South Carolina.
The Wolverines, who were not expected to be one of the top two teams, finished just behind No. 5 Notre Dame, which won the meet with 71 points. No. 11 Michigan trailed closely with 82 points, while No. 18 Michigan State (86 points) and Wisconsin (97 points) rounded out the top four.
“The team ran great,” Michigan coach Ron Warhurst said. “We got an automatic qualifier, which is more than we expected.”
“We knew we”d go to nationals. We planned on an at-large bid. It”s nice not to have to wait until Monday to find out for sure,” freshman Alan Webb said.
Webb led the men”s team, finishing second in a field that hosted some of the nations top runners. He covered the first 10 kilometer race of his career in a time of 30:36.
“He”s is running great right now,” Warhurst said of Webb. “He has adjusted to this distance, and cross country better than anyone had anticipated.
The individual winner of Saturday”s race was Boaz Cheboiywo, a 23-year-old Kenya-native who recently transferred to Eastern Michigan. Cheboiywo dominated the race, taking the lead from the start and immediately pulling away from his closest pursuers. Cheboiywo, who is favored to win the national meet, ran a time of 29:52 45 seconds faster than Webb.
“I would be shocked if that man did not win the national meet,” Warhurst said.
Although Warhurst did not expect Webb to beat Cheboiywo, Webb hadn”t ruled out the possibility.
“I wanted to see what (Cheboiywo) was doing,” Webb said. “I”m a little disappointed. I wanted to win, but at the same time, it”s just a prelim. Now I know what I have to do.”
Alan Webb is a “killer competitor,” said Warhurst. “But he”s human. Boaz was just better today. When you”re as good as Webb, you”ve got to run against these guys, and you don”t always win.”
Michigan also placed four other runners in the top 30.
Senior Mike Wisniewski covered the course in 30:56, finishing seventh overall.
“Mike ran great today,” Warhurst said. “He was only two places off of his finish at Big Tens, and this is a bigger, tougher field.”
The regional meet marked Wisniewski”s third consecutive top five finish.
“I think I ran better than I”ve been doing in the past,” Wisniewski said. “And I can do better than I did today. There”s always room for improvement.”
Fellow senior Mark Pilja also improved on his Big Ten meet performance, finishing 16th overall with a time of 31:19.
The fourth and fifth runners for the Wolverines were Tom Greenless and Nathan Brannen, who finished together earning 29th and 30th place, respectively.
Greenless, who finished in 55th place at last year”s regional meet, ran himself into the right group of runners immediately and shaved 40 seconds off his time from last year.
“Greenless ran tremendous,” Warhurst said. “He is coming along how we hoped he would.”
Although only one place behind Greenless, Brannen ran a much different race than his teammate. The freshman ran conservatively in his first collegiate regional meet, starting further back, and steadily moving through the pack.
Helping Brannen out in the early stages of the race for the Wolverines was redshirt freshman Brian Turner who finished 44th overall in what Warhurst called “his best cross country race ever.”
Even with the unexpected success at the regional meet, coach Warhurst maintains that the meet is “just a qualifier, not a final. The point is the team gets to go (to nationals),” Warhurst said. “The key in cross- country is the team. This is fun this is group therapy.”
The team will undoubtedly take away more than just a qualifier for nationals.
“We have a lot more confidence than we did a week ago,” Warhurst said, “and that will be key at nationals.”