Junior Jennifer Morgan crossed the finish line Saturday in the NCAA Great Lakes Regionals with two fewer items than she started with.
After some soft mud pulled her heels out of her shoes, Morgan kicked them to the sideline halfway through the race and ran the rest of the race barefoot, still managing to place 17th, a personal best.
“(My shoes) had been half-on and half-off for two miles at that point and I was really frustrated so I just kicked them off and went,” Morgan said. “It is kind of funny, looking back on it, but it was fine and we won. That is all that matters.”
An injury kept Morgan from racing in the race the past two seasons, and she was just happy to be healthy enough to compete this year, no matter the challenging conditions.
Navigating the West Lafayette varsity course was especially difficult after torrential downpours before the race left it soaked and muddy.
“We will all be pulling the mud off and spending some time in the shower,” Michigan coach Mike McGuire said after the race. “The course wasn’t thick with grass and it didn’t handle the mud well. It was definitely a mud bath, which we have been exposed to, just not in a long time.”
The less-than-ideal conditions did not faze the Wolverines, however, who placed first out of 34 teams. They earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships next Monday.
Luckily for all the runners, the muddy course was mostly flat, leaving fewer hills to navigate.
“Every turn and every downhill you had to be really careful so you would not wipe out,” Morgan said. “It was fun though, real cross country and terrible weather, which we have not encountered much this year.”
Ranked 17th nationally and third in the Great Lakes Region, the Wolverines are poised for a strong finish to the season.
A strong team throughout the year, Michigan was disappointed after the Big Ten Championship in which the Wolverines placed fifth.
Michigan finished behind Wisconsin and Michigan State at the conference tournament, but trampled both teams Saturday.
“The benchmark we have to go from is that we beat Michigan State,” McGuire said.
The Wolverines’ first-place finish can be attributed to top runner Nicole Edwards, a fifth-year senior, who placed second (20:57.4) behind Michigan State’s Nicole Bush. Edwards has been a key part of the Wolverines’ success all year, and after a disappointing 24th-place finish at the Big Ten meet, Edwards brought the heat Saturday.
“I would have been very surprised if she had not bounced back,” McGuire said. “She handled the disappointment of the Big Ten and put it behind her and had a good two weeks of training going into today.”
And after the teams top finish in the “mud bath,” McGuire is confident in Michigan’s ability in the most adverse of conditions.”
“We are in the Midwest in November,” McGuire said. “Anything can happen.”