MSU - Leah O'Connor wins Spartan Invitational for second straight year

MSU - Leah O'Connor wins Spartan Invitational for second straight year

Provided by MSU

EAST LANSING, Mich. - The 2014 Auto-Owners Insurance Spartan Invitational was held on Friday afternoon as the Michigan State men's and women's cross country teams returned to action in their third competition of the 2014 season. The 29th annual event took place at Forest Akers East Golf Course as a total of 30 college programs competed in the men's and women's races. More than 5,000 Michigan high school and middle school athletes also participated in the event.

"We don't have many home meets, so it's nice to run at home in front of a lot of people cheering for us. Otherwise, we're traveling with a little bit smaller group of fans. So today was nice," stated MSU Director of Cross Country/Track & Field Walt Drenth. "I thought we did a nice job as a team in both groups. We followed our race plans. One of our primary objectives was to stay together a little better and I thought we did that well. We might have even been better as a group today than last Friday at Oregon."

Leading the way for the Spartans in the women's 6K race was senior Leah O'Connor with a first place time of 21:03. O'Connor, who also won the Spartan Invitational as a junior in 2013, and teammates Rachele Schulist (21:05) and Lindsay Clark (21:19) paced Michigan State for the second consecutive week at the top of the race leaderboard. Sara Kroll (21:24) was right behind the trio in fourth overall, followed by Alexis Wiersma (21:40) in seventh. Julia Otwell (21:41) and Katie Landwehr (21:49) rounded out the top-10 in ninth and tenth place, respectively.

"It wasn't as much about strategy today as it was a workout for us. We just got back on Sunday from Oregon and it was a long trip, so we wanted to make today a good workout and not a high intensity meet for us. It was nice to go through the mile marker as a pack and stay relaxed through the beginning of the race," said O'Connor. "Through the two mile, we were supposed to stay more relaxed. From there, we got a feel for the race and got in our element and started to run faster. Rachel and I went off together. Rachel was awesome today and helped me stay engaged when I was struggling. She was a great teammate and I am lucky to have her. Today was about being teammates and feeling strong throughout the whole race."

In the men's 8K race, junior Caleb Rhynard was the Spartan's top finisher in third place overall with a time of 24:40. Ben Carruthers clocked in at 24:42 to sixth, followed by Nick Soter (24:46) in ninth place. Ben Miller (24:54) and Sherod Hardt (24:55) rounded out MSU's top five finishers in 11th and 12th place, respectively.

"As a team, we stuck together for a majority of the race, which is what we wanted. We wanted to have as many guys up near the front as we could, and we accomplished that," added Rhynard. "Last week was a long trip with all of the traveling, so we didn't really work out at all this week. Today was our first hard run since then. In terms of strategy, we want to just continue to have guys up front."

Michigan State will be idle for a week before traveling to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to compete in the Roy Griak Invitational on Sept. 27.