MSU - Schulist, Ruiz Pace MSU at Auto-Owners Insurance Spartan Invite

MSU - Schulist, Ruiz Pace MSU at Auto-Owners Insurance Spartan Invite

Provided by MSU

EAST LANSING, Mich. - The Michigan State cross country team defended its home course at the Auto-Owners Insurance Spartan Invitational on Friday, Sept. 18, with several top finishes led by junior Rachele Schulist's winning performance in the women's 6,000 meters. Sophomore Clark Ruiz paced the Spartan men with a third-place effort, covering the 8,000-meter course in 25:03.

"I thought we had great growth," said head coach Walt Drenth. "I was pleased with the approach by both teams. We saw some young people perform very, very well, and I think they will help us this year. Our stars are just that, our stars. Rachele Schulist was fourth at nationals and looks like she will get back to that form. She ran away with the meet today, which leading from start to finish in the first race of the year is not very easy. Ally (Alexis Wiersma) was a top-60 runner last year at NCAAs and looks to be in excess of that. On the men's side, they ran very well as a group. Clark's (Ruiz) race was outstanding, and Max Benoit was just fantastic in his poise. Our men's team is going to be good and is a legitimate top-20 team."

In her 2015 debut, Schulist led the women's competition from start to finish. The 2014 All-American completed the first mile in 5:18 before pulling away from the field to clock a time of 21:01. Junior Alexis Wiersma was in pursuit, turning in a 21:07 to take second-place honors. MSU's top three was comprised of a trio of juniors, being rounded out by Shelby Jackson who raced to a fifth-place finish in 21:36.

"I felt good, and I did what coach Drenth wanted me to do," said Schulist. "We are all about the pack mentality, which the girls are getting. I like to think I am in a good spot, but I always want to get better."

Freshman Erin McDonald, the Big Ten Athlete of the Week from Sept. 9, continued her impressive rookie campaign with a 21:47 to take eighth. Sophomores Kelsie Schwartz and Raquel Serna, along with junior Molly Jeakle worked their way into the Spartans' top seven, finishing in 14th (22:03), 17th (22:13) and 25th (22:32), respectively. More than 315 runners crossed the finish line in the day's opening contest.

"Erin McDonald was a good example of growth from my standpoint," Drenth said. "We knew Ally (Alexis Wiersma) and Rachele (Schulist) would be good, but for me it was looking at the surprises. McDonald was outstanding and backed up winning (the Jeff Drenth Memorial Race) a couple of weeks ago with a solid effort today, better, I think, than her win."

In the men's 8K, Ruiz battled with the leaders for much of the race and held on for a third-place finish, running a 25:03. Sophomore Max Benoit was the next MSU harrier to complete the course, turning in a 25:13 to take eighth overall.

"Clark (Ruiz) had a breakout race and will be a surprise person at the conference meet. He ran solo for a large part of that race, and I think did a very good job of keeping his poise and continuing to move through the group" said Drenth. "Dan Sims, a freshman in his first race, did a nice job and is just finding is confidence. He will make a lot of progress throughout the year."

Freshman Daniel Sims, senior Andrew Cusmano and junior Sherod Hardt found their stride as a pack, coming across the line in 22nd (25:38), 25th (25:45) and 27th (25:47), respectively. MSU's sixth and seventh runners, juniors Garret Zuk and Chris Collier, placed inside the top 50 of the 386-person field, running times of 26:03 and 26:08.

The men's race was won by Nathan Martin, running unattached, in a time of 24:42. Ryan Robinson, also competing unattached, took second with a 24:44.

More than 170 high schools and 8,000 runners between the middle school, high school and collegiate races participated in the 2015 Auto-Owners Insurance Spartan Invite.

"This was just a step," Drenth said. "We will go back and look at how we can handle some things better. We are looking for growth. This is just one step to the end and the Griak Invite is just a second step. We are excited to go to that national-level meet. It will give us a good taste of who we need to be at the end."

The Spartans return to action on Sept. 26 at the Griak Invitational hosted by conference foe Minnesota.