The Michigan women’s cross country team got lost in the masses of runners this weekend at the NCAA Pre-Nationals hosted by Indiana State. Michigan coach Mike McGuire compared it to losing your friends while walking out of the Big House.
“With a huge number of people, you look away for one second and they are gone in the crowd,” he said.
With the large amount of runners, the Wolverines were unable to do as well as they had hoped but still got to preview the site of the Nationals course. Michigan finished sixth overall with 216 points behind Georgetown, which placed first with 117 points.
“We placed similarly to how we did last year,” McGuire said. “And there was a lot more quality and depth of the talent there compared to last year.”
Freshman Erin Finn was the top Michigan runner, finishing the 6,000-meter course in 16th place with a time of 20:33.72 — a lifetime best and a 31-second improvement for her. Finn, who was nervous about getting off the line, pushed herself into gaining a one-or-two second lead by minute three of the race.
“It may not seem like a lot,” McGuire said, “but it has an exponential factor to it when you are running with a huge field.”
The large amount of runners was an issue for the team from the start, as the Michigan runners had a hard time getting off the line.
“I thought we would be able to work our way through (the crowd), but that wasn’t really the case,” said junior co-captain Brook Handler. “We got kind of stuck.”
Handler had a somewhat easier time moving through the dozens of runners, advancing from 46th place to finish 30th with a time of 20:49.48, becoming the second Michigan runner to finish.
The inability to get off the line quickly did have one advantage though, as it kept some of the runners together. McGuire has stressed the importance of packing together and keeping a small time gap between the first and fifth runners on his team.
The longer and unspectacular split between first and fifth runner, 47 seconds, was unsurprising to McGuire because of the large field. However, two runners finished within a second of each other. Junior co-captain Taylor Pogue (42nd place) and junior Megan Weschler (46th place) finished with times of 20:58.67 and 20:59.85, respectively.
“(Closing the split) is a really big goal for us,” Finn said. “We just need to focus on the little things.”
Junior Alex Leptich brought up the rear of the one-to-five split, finishing 85th in 21:20.16. Sophomores Anna Pasternak and Taylor Manett also raced, finishing 126th and 187th, respectively, with times of 21:39.10 and 21:59.50.
“We learned that anyone can be our number-one runner, and anyone can be our number-five runner,” Handler said. “It has changed every race this year.”
This was the first big meet for the team this season and, according to McGuire, it’s a whole different animal. Big Ten Championships are on Nov. 3rd, and Nationals are fast approaching, which makes it important to get a feel for a larger race environment.
“It’s less of a shock to your system when you experience it a second time,” McGuire said.
But it’s not just the increase in pace, talent and runners the team needed to adjust to.
“We had to get used to a crowd (of fans),” Finn said. “I’m not used to having girls cheering and making us run faster.”