U of M Men - Wolverines Among Favorites for Big Ten Title on Sunday
Provided by U of M
» Ranked No. 13 in the field, the veteran Wolverines will be in for a fight against three other national top-30 squads, including in-state rival No. 15 Michigan State.
» Led by Ben Flanagan, five redshirt seniors lead the way in their final shots at Big Ten glory.
» Michigan last won the Big Ten team title in 2015, with its last individual Big Ten winner coming by way of Alan Webb in 2001.
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Sunday, Oct. 29 -- Big Ten Championships (Bloomington, Ind.), 10:45 a.m.
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The No. 13-ranked University of Michigan men's cross country team will be among the favorites at the Big Ten Championships in Bloomington, Indiana, on Sunday (Oct. 29) as it looks to reclaim the team title it last won in 2015.
Momentum is on the Wolverines' side as they prepare for the first of what they hope will be three postseason races in the championships phase of the season: an eight-kilometer (4.97-mile) race over the grounds of the Indiana Championship Cross Country Course at 10:45 a.m.
Head coach Kevin Sullivan has guided the Maize and Blue to performances that exceeded their national rank in two consecutive meets: the Notre Dame Joe Piane Invitational and the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational, catapulting Michigan from unranked to No. 13 in the nation.
They will be tested once again with three other national top-30 squads from the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association National Coaches' Poll in the field, which includes the closely matched No. 15 Michigan State squad the Wolverines topped by just two points at Wisconsin. Three more teams receiving votes just outside the top 30 – among them unranked defending champion Wisconsin – also will be part of the field.
"We've performed well in each meet we've had this year, but I don't think we've put together a perfect race," Sullivan said. "That's exciting because we know we can be better than we have been, but we also know that we have to be better than we have been. Every team comes in here with a focus and a desire to win and we have to come in with that same mindset and a commitment to leaving it out there at the end of the day."
Led by a corps of redshirt seniors in Ben Flanagan, Aaron Baumgarten, Connor Mora and Billy Bund, Michigan has time and again demonstrated the ability to make decisive moves through the field late in races this season. The dynamic changes this weekend, with only 12 teams in the field as opposed to 21 at Notre Dame and 35 at Wisconsin.
Baumgarten, Mora and Bund -- along with fellow redshirt senior Micah Beller -- are a year stronger and more experienced than a last season when the Wolverines finished a disappointing fifth at Big Tens.
All five were on the roster two years ago when Michigan captured its first Big Ten team title since 1998 -- one year after Sullivan's final year in the NCAA -- with Flangan, Mora, Beller and Baumgarten all in the top-seven for the Wolverines.
Live results will be available for the meet at PTTiming.com, with updates throughout the weekend posted on the Wolverines' social media channels. Though the meet will not be broadcast live, the Big Ten Network will debut the tape-delayed airing of the meet on Monday (Oct. 30) at 8:30 p.m.
Nine Wolverines will make up the Maize and Blue contingent at the Big Ten Championships: redshirt seniors Flanagan, Baumgarten, Mora, Bund and Beller; redshirt sophomores Ben Hill and Keenan Rebera; redshirt freshman Isaac Harding and true freshman Jack Aho.
Standard NCAA scoring rules are in effect for the Big Ten Championships, meaning a team's first five runners will comprise its team score. Each of those top-five runners will be assigned a point value equal to their finish positions (first is one point, second is two, and so on), with the sum of those five runners' point totals making up the team score.
The next two runners (six and seven) will serve as displacers in the team scoring. Though their point totals will not contribute to the team score, they will be key in pushing opposing teams' scoring runners who finish behind them back one spot each in the standings -- a vital advantage in a competition in which each and every point is important.
The final two runners will not factor into the team scoring.
Flanagan has led the Wolverines scoring five in every race so far this season, looking even stronger than when he finished eighth at the conference meet as a junior in 2015. After missing last year with injury, the Canadian has provided a strong presence -- and a low point total -- out front for Michigan, most recently in a 22nd-place finish at Wisconsin.
He will very much factor into the race for the individual title, having finished as the third-best Big Ten representative at the Wisconsin Invitational two weekends ago. He would be Michigan's first Big Ten Champion in cross country since Alan Webb in 2001.
After taking a few weeks to round into vintage form, Baumgarten is back running at the level of his sixth-place finish at Big Tens a year ago.
Mora has scored in each of the past two Big Ten Championships for Michigan -- including as the No. 2 a season ago -- while Bund and Beller also return as scorers from a year ago.
In his first Michigan cross country season, Harding has been a fixture of the Wolverines' scoring lineup, finishing among the squad's fastest five in every meet this year.
The No. 13 Wolverines will square off with three other teams ranked top-30 nationally, including in-state rival No. 15 Michigan State, No. 18 Minnesota and No. 30 Penn State. Vote-receiving Illinois, Purdue and Indiana will also vie for the title, bringing the total of nationally recognized squads to seven out of 12 teams in the conference -- not including defending champion Wisconsin, which fell out of the poll last week.
"Not only is it one of the deepest conferences in the country, it's also probably the conference that has the most parity," Sullivan said. "I think you're looking at five, six or seven teams that all have a legitimate shot to win or be in the top three, and we're certainly one of those teams."
Michigan was first among seven Big Ten teams at the hyper-competitive Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational two weekends ago, edging out the Spartans by just two points and two spots in the standings.
Propelled by a mid-race surge with Flanagan at the point, the Wolverines displayed better depth than the Spartans with all five scorers and an additional sixth runner across the line before Michigan State's fifth-and-final scorer came through in 123rd.
MSU was able to get four runners through the chute among the top 50 finishers before Michigan's third, but struggled in the fifth spot to open the door for the Wolverines' depth.
While the Wolverines finished ahead of MSU at Wisconsin and are ranked higher both regionally and nationally, a deeper dive into the results in Madison reveals the race is even closer than already evident.
If the Wisconsin meet was re-scored to only include teams and runners from the Big Ten, it was Michigan State that would emerge as the top team ahead of the Wolverines. In a smaller field, the Spartans' bigger pack at the front of the field outweighed its disparity in depth relative to Michigan's lineup.
With that in mind, the need to run closer to the front of the pack and do more to control the race is front-and-center for Sullivan and the Wolverines in the lead-up to the conference meet.
"I think the biggest thing is we just have to be aware of where all the main players are," Sullivan said. "If we dictate the race the way we want it to go then people have respond to us, or if we choose to let someone else dictate the race, then we have to be willing to respond to how it plays out. That's the biggest key -- either you take control or adapt to whomever takes control."
A LOOK AHEAD
Friday, Nov. 10 -- at NCAA Great Lakes Regional (Terre Haute, Ind.)
Saturday, Nov. 18 -- at NCAA Championships (Louisville, Ky.)