After finishing third for the No. 6 Michigan women’s cross country team at the Big Ten Championships last week, senior Jillian Smith was determined to make more of a statement in this week’s NCAA Great Lakes Regional race.
On Friday, Smith took command of the team and finished fourth overall and first for the Wolverines, leading the team to a second-straight regional title with a time of 20:14 for the 8,000-meter race in Madison.
“Our goal as a team was to continue to build off our win at Big Tens and bring that momentum into Regionals,” Smith said. “The race went well. It got out pretty fast, and there were a lot of runners in the front pack initially, but about 4,000 meters in, the top three runners broke away and I was able to settle into leading the second pack.”
Following Smith, senior Rebecca Addison finished seventh with a time of 20:30. Freshman Shannon Osika (20:38) and senior Lindsey Hilton (20:40) finished eighth and ninth, respectively.
“The race was overwhelming to an extent, but I like races with this kind of atmosphere because I always tend to thrive in them,” Osika said. “I ran my best time of the season in this race, and I’m hoping to carry that momentum into next week’s race.”
Michigan’s fifth and final scoring runner was sophomore Brook Handler, who finished 13th overall with a time of 20:45. The Wolverines’ last two varsity runners were fifth-year senior Amanda Eccelston and freshman Taylor Manett, who finished 32nd and 47th with respective times of 21:08 and 21:32.
Michigan coach Mike McGuire was pleased with the team’s win — which represents its eighth regional title during McGuire’s tenure — and he noted the 31 second difference between the team’s first and fifth runners as one of its keys to victory.
“It’s nice to say that we were able to defend our regional title,” McGuire said. “But what’s more important is that we build off of these performances going into next week’s race. I think we saw a career best race from Lindsey (Hilton), and obviously Jillian (Smith) and Shannon (Osika) ran really well too.”
In addition to preparing physically during practice this week, the Wolverines are preparing mentally for the intimidating challenge of next week’s NCAA Championship meet.
“I’m just trying to stay stress free and look at it as just another race,” Osika said. “It’s nice to have these great teammates to race with and pull me along for the ride, though.”
Smith noted that the course for next week’s championship race in Louisville is familiar to the Wolverines.
“We’ve already seen this course at the (NCAA) Pre-National meet earlier this year, so it won’t be too much of a shock,” Smith said. “We are going to have to take the confidence we’ve gained from the last two races and just put forth our best effort next week.”
McGuire said he’s confident about the team’s preparation and expects things to go well in the final meet of the team’s season on Nov. 17.
“We are focusing and mentally preparing for the task ahead,” McGuire said. “If we get out to a good start and maintain a similar one-to-five split, I think good things will happen. Obviously, the National Championship race is a demanding setting, but we’re pretty familiar with this course, and I think we’re going to draw a lot of confidence from these last two races and hopefully produce a great result.”