WEST LAFAYETTE – After a lackluster performance at the NCAA Pre-Nationals on Oct.19, nobody expected the Michigan women’s cross country team to shine any brighter at the Big Ten Championships yesterday. That is, nobody except Michigan coach Mike McGuire, who never doubted that his team was capable of winning. Michigan went on to win the race, which was hosted by Purdue, with the lowest score of 70 points.
“We put the meet from two weeks ago behind us because we didn’t commit ourselves,” McGuire said. “It was non-indicative of how we had been racing and training up to that point. Our (goal) for today was to go out, commit and compete, and we did.
“We had kids that were hurt and some that were hanging on, but at the end, everybody had fire in their eye and they stormed for home. Once you’re committed, it just fires you up and keeps the momentum going.”
The victory was somewhat of a surprise, seeing as how No. 24 Michigan was ranked fourth in the conference going into the race behind No. 9 Wisconsin, No. 18 Indiana and No. 23 Michigan State. But a few Wolverines stepped up at key moments, helping the team capture its fourth Big Ten title and its first since 1994.
Rebecca Walter and Lindsey Gallo ran side-by-side, pushing each other throughout most of the race. With about 200 meters left in the race, the duo passed several other runners, including Michigan State’s Sarah Pepera. That move proved to be critical, as the Wolverines went on to beat the second-place Spartans by just three points.
“Gallo and Walter did a great job at the end,” McGuire said. “Walter has been an absolute anchor in the lineup; she’s just been so steady. Lindsay’s a talented runner and hopefully, next year, she can even compete for the individual title. The expectation of the program and the athletes is to step up, and I would say someone who did step up was Chelsea Loomis, who struggled with her races this year, but came up big today.”
“I didn’t know what to expect, coming in,” Walter said. “I went out feeling pretty good in the beginning.
I was a little intimidated by the course and the hills, but as I got going, they weren’t too bad.”
Walter earned All-Big Ten first-team honors as the first freshman in yesterday’s race to cross the finish line. Gallo also received first-team honors for the second consecutive year, becoming the seventh Wolverine to earn the award multiple times.
“I’m just happy that I could do my part,” Gallo said.
“I ran the best race that I could and I gave it my all, so I can’t be disappointed. (Walter and I) ran together for most of the race and I think that helped both of us.”
The Wolverines won’t have much time to celebrate, as they will have to prepare for the NCAA Great Lakes Regional on Nov. 16.
But the team can be proud of the fact that they went in to the tournament as the underdogs and overcame the odds to come out victorious.
“We had good, strong performances from everybody,” McGuire said. “It was just a great day and I’m really proud of them.”