Ranked Spartans to Battle in Cross Country National Championships

Ranked Spartans to Battle in Cross Country National Championships

Provided by MSU

EAST LANSING, Mich. - Michigan State cross country wraps up its season on Saturday, Nov. 21, at the NCAA Championships in Louisville, Kentucky. The defending champion, No. 17 women’s team, earned an at-large bid, while the No. 19 men’s program enters this weekend having earned four all-regional honors. Running kicks off with the women’s 6,000-meters at noon and concludes with the men’s 10K at 1 p.m.

“This is a great opportunity for growth and learning,” said Director of Cross Country and Track & Field Walt Drenth. “We can go out ready to be bold and fearless, which is critical to succeeding at the nationals. If we behave like we have this year and be bold, then we will do well. The biggest thing is to have them be confident and purposeful no matter where we are racing.”

Junior Alexis Wiersma has paced the Spartans in each of the past three outings. Last week, Wiersma took third at the Great Lakes Regional with a time of 20:33.8 for her second all-regional honor. Junior Shelby Jackson rounded out the top 10 of the 215-runner field with a time of 20:51.1. Jackson averaged a 5:36 per mile on the way to her first all-region recognition. Senior Katie Landwehr continued to be the Spartans’ No. 3 runner, finishing just two back of Jackson with a time of 20:56.6.

“The thought process hasn’t been different throughout the year,” Drenth said of the women’s team. “The tangible objectives may have changed, but how we approach each race hasn’t. That has been our message, and we want to be as good as we can be. We will control what we can, and this group has done a remarkable job of that. We are running well and that is an attribute to them.”

In last year’s edition of the national championships, the women earned four All-American distinctions on their way to a team score of 85 to clinch their first NCAA title. With this season’s bid, MSU has the second-longest active streak of qualifying for the NCAA championships at 16-consecutive years. Stanford has qualified 23-straight seasons, while Michigan is third at 14. Three of the top five schools are from the Big Ten, as Minnesota has now made it to 11-straight championships.

Junior Sherod Hardt led MSU for the first time this season, taking seventh and earning the second all-region accolades of his career. Redshirt senior Caleb Rhynard, making just his third appearance this season, rounded out the top 10 with a 30:52.0 to become the first Spartan in history to earn All-Great Lakes Regional honors four times. Rhynard looks to become the first Spartan on the men’s side to repeat as an All-American since Anthony Hamm accomplish the feat from 1988-91. Rhynard’s All-American run came in 2013, when he took 34th with a time of 30:41.40.

“The men are in a good place and they are excited,” said Drenth. “We can exceed our rankings. They believe they can go out and compete, and that is the most important thing. The teams at this point, everyone runs well at 10,000-meters. There are a lot of teams that we can compete with. We need to get into the run and move through the pack together. Those will remain our objectives.”

Junior T.J. Carey and senior Andrew Cusmano took the first 2K out with Hardt and Rhynard. The two faded from the lead pack but kept a close margin to cross in 19th and 23rd, respectively, and earn all-region honors. Carey’s race ended in 31:13.1 as Cusmano finished with a time of 31:17.4

“It is a good sign of the quality of our team,” Drenth said. “Everyone is capable of being a low stick at any meet. We need to develop that confidence to be a penetrator. The confidence as a group though is strong as there are six guys around to pick each other up. We can be bolder because we have that consistency.”

No. 5 Michigan and No. 16 Minnesota joined the Spartans on the men’s side from the Big Ten on Saturday, while the No. 6 Wolverines, No. 9 Penn State and the No. 23 Golden Gophers will compete in the women’s 6K.