U of M - Men's Cross Country Gets Season Off to Strong Start at Michigan Open

U of M - Men's Cross Country Gets Season Off to Strong Start at Michigan Open

Provided by U of M

9/1/2017 1:58:00 PM

// Kyle Terwillegar

Site: Dexter, Mich. (Hudson Mills Metropark)

Event: Michigan Open

U-M Team Finish: Non-scoring

Top U-M Individual: Ben Flanagan, 1st (15:10.6)

Next U-M Event: Friday, Sept. 15 -- at adidas XC Challenge (Cary, N.C.)

DEXTER, Mich. -- Senior Ben Flanagan made a triumphant return to the trails as he led the University of Michigan men's cross country team to a strong showing to open up its 2017 campaign Friday morning (Sept. 1) at the Michigan Open.

After completely missing last fall as well as much of the spring track season, Flanagan showed his fitness has returned to where it was when he was a three-time top-100 finisher at the NCAA Cross Country Championships. He sprinted home on the five-kilometer (3.11-mile) Hudson Mills Metropark course to cross the line in 15:10.6, followed closely by the teammates with whom he packed up for most of the race.

Senior Billy Bund crossed less than three seconds later in 15:13.4, just one tick ahead of sophomore Keenan Rebera in 15:14.4. Senior Micah Beller (15:19.0) and surprise VIP guest alum Nick Willis (15:20.0) -- a two-time Olympic medalist and former standout at Michigan -- rounding out the top five.

Making his Michigan cross country debut, redshirt freshman Isaac Harding (15:20.3) was the fifth runner for Michigan.

Returning postseason scorers Aaron Baumgarten, Connor Mora and Jordy Hewitt did not run on Friday but are set to open up their campaigns later this month.

"I thought today was really solid," head coach Kevin Sullivan said. "Flanagan, Billy and Keenan were very controlled. That's what we wanted, to be controlled for the first two and a half miles and then work on a noticeable increase in pace over the last half mile, so I thought those guys did a really nice job. We have a group of sophomores and juniors who are starting to close that gap, and we need them to continue to do that.

"Overall, I think it's positive," he continued. "When we put Baumgarten, Mora and Hewitt back into the lineup, I think we have potential, for sure. We just have to live up to that potential."

In what might turn out to be the lone home meet of his career -- this race was not contested during his most recent cross country season in 2015, and he opened his 2013 and 2014 campaigns later into September -- Flanagan was the victor of the half-mile sprint to the finish line.

Executing the plan laid out by Sullivan pre-race, Flanagan ran with the group of Bund, Beller, Harding, Rebera, redshirt freshmen Jacob Branch, Jacob Lee and Joost Plaetinck and sophomore Ben Hill through much of the race. It was not until the very end coming down the home stretch that Flanagan gapped his teammates in the closing stages of the race.

This marked his first cross country race since finishing 83rd at the 2015 NCAA Championships as part of Michigan's ninth-place team, though he saw limited action on the track this spring, including an eighth-place finish in the Big Ten Outdoor Championships 10,000-meter final in his season debut.

"I felt like it's been too long," said Flanagan. "I was really fortunate that we were able to get some action in last spring, but I felt like I was in a little bit of a compromised position. It feels really good to come out in what feels like a lot closer to full form to start off the year on the right note."

After the team returned from training camp up north at the U-M Biological Station less than 24 hours prior to the gun on Friday, the Michigan Open served as re-introduction to a competition setting. Things will heat up for the Wolverines in two weekends' time as they face their first true competition of the year on Friday, Sept. 15, at the adidas XC Challenge in Cary, North Carolina.

"Right now it's just about consistency," Sullivan said. "We need to be consistent in workouts, we need to be consistent in our off days, and with school starting up we need guys to be consistent in the classroom. Consistency is key for everyone, as well as just making the small improvements throughout the year. If we do that, we could be dangerous at the end of the year."