Bittersweet.

That’s how Mike Woods described the Michigan men’s cross country team’s performance at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional this past Saturday. While Woods, a sophomore, qualified for nationals with a fourth-place individual finish, the team, which placed eighth overall, wasn’t as successful.

“We definitely underperformed,” Woods said. “It was a very achievable goal (to make nationals). We were pretty disappointed.”

But while Woods wasn’t happy with the team’s result, he was pleased with his own performance in the 10,000-meter race. With a time of 31:11.7, Woods placed high enough to qualify for nationals in Terre Haute, Ind., this Saturday.

“I thought it was not only one of my better races of the year, but also of my entire cross country career,” Woods said. “But at the same time, it was bittersweet because the team didn’t make it.”

The team’s season may have ended, but it’s just the beginning for Woods. After placing 174th at nationals last year and after a difficult start earlier this year, Woods has seen his running career take off.

“It was tough at the beginning because I started track and field so late into the season and I didn’t have the ability to build up like the other runners did,” Woods said.

But after missing the first two races, he has been the Wolverines’ top finisher in five of the team’s eight meets this year.

Coach Ron Warhurst said he believes that Woods has improved dramatically since the start of the season.

“Earlier on, he was struggling, but I think he is running his best cross country right now,” Warhurst said. “He wasn’t training as hard earlier on, and it took a while to build his mileage up, but he has tremendously improved.”

Warhurst also feels that Woods has taken up a new role as a leader of the team.

“He definitely has (acted as a leader),” he said. “He speaks to his teammates through his actions.”

Since former captain and three-time All-American Nate Brannen graduated last year, Woods has gladly taken the driver’s seat this season.

“It’s good to be able to say that people look up to me,” Woods said. “I’ve got big shoes to fill, which I haven’t entirely filled yet. But hopefully, I can perform just as well as Nate did.”

Like Brannen, Woods hopes that he can contend for a top-30 finish at nationals – which would qualify him to be an All-American.

“I hope to be All-American, but I’m not going to put too much pressure on myself,” Woods said. “It’s a big chance to prove that I can run with some of the best runners in the nation.”

Woods is also optimistic about the team’s prospects for next season.

“Hopefully, next year the entire team can go to nationals,” he said. “I’m almost positive we will because we will be more experienced.”

As for his own future, Woods hopes to eventually “be a contender for a top-10 finish.” But for now, he just wants to focus on the upcoming race.

“I’m just going to have an open mind, have fun, and I will run to the best of my ability to make the top-30,” Woods said.

Warhurst is confident that Woods is prepared for the race on Saturday.

“Mike will have a good showing,” Warhurst said. “He’s prepared, he’s ready, and he’s a gamer.”

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