In the void left by two of the Michigan women’s cross country team’s three senior captains, a new leader fought her way into the spotlight at the Big Ten cross country championships.
Sophomore Danielle Tauro attained All-Big Ten second team honors Sunday at the University of Michigan Golf Course, placing 13th overall and leading the No. 8 Michigan women’s cross country team to a fifth-place finish (116 points). Tauro ran her best race ever as a Wolverine (21:19). She improved on her 51st place finish at last year’s conference championship, where the Wolverines finished third.
“Tauro is going to step up as our leader of the future,” Michigan coach Mike McGuire said.
Though Tauro was the bright spot for the Wolverines, Michigan finished fifth and posted its worst Big Ten finish in seven years.
Without the typically strong performances of redshirt senior tri-captains Nicole Edwards and Aly Kohlmeier, Michigan’s former two-time Big Ten Championship winners, the Wolverines struggled to keep pace with the fast field. Battling a recurring ankle problem, Kohlmeier donned a walking cast instead of her racing spikes Sunday.
The absence of Kohlmeier was compounded by an uncharacteristically shaky performance from Edwards. Although she had eyed the Big Ten Championship title all season long, Edwards watched her dream disintegrate shortly after the gun went off at the start of the race.
“I knew she was in trouble two K into the race,” McGuire said. “The race was in control of her, she wasn’t in control of the race.”
Edwards seemed to fold under the pressure to win as a senior leader, and it ultimately cost her the championship. Influenced by the high energy and excitement surrounding the course, the front pack ran an adrenaline-fueled opening kilometer. Edwards, unable to get into her usually easy and strong strides, came in a disappointing 24th place (21:36).
“It definitely was such a big thing for her,” McGuire said. “She’s on the end of her career with us and she’s at home. I mean it’s all of this … look at this atmosphere. I thought that they were running a little bit too hard three, four minutes into the race. It just happens. If you’re in this long enough things can come up. If anybody can bounce back off of this, it’s Nicole Edwards.”
The Wolverines’ fifth-place finish shows just how much the two senior tri-captains were missed. No. 7 Minnesota won the meet (63), followed closely by No. 16 Wisconsin (67) and No. 9 Michigan State (83). With the top seven finishing teams at the meet ranked within the top 21 nationally, the Big Ten is a tough conference to run in.
The Wolverines had a specific plan to reclaim the conference title, clustering their top five runners together so they came into the chute within 36 seconds. But without a front-running athlete in contention for the individual title, Michigan lost ground.
Cross country is a sport in which one teammate can have the best day of their career and another can come crashing down.
“It’s bittersweet,” Tauro said. “I know that everyone gave their best efforts, so I cannot expect anything more, and I can’t be disappointed. I am definitely happy with my performance, and a lot of girls stepped it up. Obviously, everyone is entitled to their day and a few girls didn’t do as well as they normally would.”
After this year, all but one runner who raced on the 2006 Big Ten Championship team will have graduated. Michigan’s legacy of five consecutive Big Ten Championship titles will be something the team has heard about, but not experienced personally.
“When I was a freshman, they won and I got to see it,” redshirt junior Kelly Sampson said. “I don’t know what it feels like to win.”
Tauro envisions what a return to the top of the Big Ten podium will take.
“It’s going to be up to the young girls to rally the troops and get everyone motivated and use every race as a growing and learning experience,” she said.