BOWLING GREEN – Surrounding the collapsed blue tent and strewn backpacks, the Michigan men’s cross country team stood in an awkward state of shock, separated from the masses of mud-splattered runners and picture-happy families awaiting the official results.
Neither the rarely silenced coach Ron Warhurst nor the downtrodden Wolverines knew how to describe the performance that all but eliminated their hopes of qualifying for the NCAA Championships.
In fact, there’s only one way to explain the team’s weekend at the Great Lakes Regional – by describing what it was not: “very nice.”
Warhurst’s trademark phrase – embroidered on the back of the runners’ jerseys and on Warhurst’s pants – was anything but true, with the team putting up a surprisingly poor seventh-place performance. Only sophomore John Black (31:45.27) finished in the top 20, placing 19th.
“Black was the best and everybody else just did not run, didn’t show up,” Warhurst said. “That’s all I got to say. We’re not going to the Nationals. . I don’t know. I just have no clue. We’ve been doing the same taper for 10, 12 years. I have no idea. They obviously didn’t feel good or else they would’ve run better. You just got to show up and beat the people you’re supposed to beat and we didn’t do it.”
With just the top two teams (Wisconsin and Notre Dame, for the third straight year) gaining automatic bids to the NCAA Championships, the Wolverines’ performance ended their season prematurely after No. 11 Michigan’s strong second-place finish at the Big Ten championships just a week ago. Black said the team’s preparation during the week went as usual and that nothing in practice indicated that a letdown was on the horizon.
But their disappointing finish may have been partially caused by the weather. The poncho-clad fans lined a battered and messy golf course, with the men running after the women ripped up the flat terrain in the day’s first race.
While the strong winds and intermittent drizzling certainly slowed down the clumped pack of runners over the 10,000-meter course, the Wolverines were adamant that the weather was not the cause of their poor performance.
“I felt we were pretty prepared,” Black said. “We had seen the course; we knew where it would be muddy. I don’t think the weather was that much of a problem. Everyone had to deal with it, just we had an off day.”
Junior co-captain Mike Woods (31:54.27), who earned All-Big Ten second-team honors this year despite suffering an injury earlier in the season, was one of the Wolverines who didn’t run well Saturday, finishing 26th. Last year, Woods led the team with a fourth-place finish at the Regional, clocking a time more than 40 seconds faster than this year’s showing.
Sophomore Lex Williams (32:19.36), who earned All-Big Ten first team honors this year and has led Michigan in every scoring event this season, was the third Wolverine to cross the finish line, finishing a startling 44th.
With both Woods and Williams looking flat – despite running together in the top six early in the race – Michigan’s lofty goals proved out of reach. At the beginning of the season, the team felt the key difference between it and perennial Big Ten champion Wisconsin was training, so Warhurst had the Wolverines run 100, and sometimes more, miles per week. The team tapered off their mileage in the same fashion it has for the past decade, making sure the extra mileage would not cost the runners as the season took its toll. Unfortunately for Michigan, all of this special preparation was for naught.
“I mean, they put so much hard work in for the past six months and now it’s just over and done, period,” Warhurst said. “That’s it.”