U of M Men - Back-to-Back Winner Flanagan Leads Wolverines to adidas XC Challenge Title

U of M Men - Back-to-Back Winner Flanagan Leads Wolverines to adidas XC Challenge Title

Provided by U of M

Site: WakeMed Park (Cary, N.C.)

Event: adidas XC Challenge

U-M Team Finish: 1st place of 13 teams (22 points)

Top U-M Individual: Ben Flanagan, 1st (18:12.1)

Next U-M Event: Friday, Sept. 29 -- at Notre Dame Joe Piane Invitational (South Bend, Ind.)

CARY, N.C. -- After an up-and-down battle with injuries during the 2016-17 academic year, redshirt senior Ben Flanagan of the University of Michigan men's cross country team is making up for lost time in a big way to start his final fall campaign, leading the Wolverines to the team title at the adidas XC Challenge on Friday (Sept. 15) with his second victory in as many races this season.

Flanagan was one of five Wolverines who crossed the line top-10 on the six-kilometer (3.73-mile) course at WakeMed Park's cross country course, spearheading a 22-point score that topped the 36 points posted by national No. 29 N.C. State.

"It was a good test to see where we're at as a team, and I liked a lot of things I saw," head coach Kevin Sullivan said. "I also see there's room for improvement, which is exciting for us, provided we can continue to improve. That's the goal for us, we want to get better on a weekly basis and if we continue to do that, then we've got a pretty strong team."

The redshirt senior outdueled runner-up Philip Hall to the line, breaking the plane in 18:12.1 to Hall's 18:13.9, successfully following up on his season-opening Michigan Open win two weeks ago. Fellow redshirt senior teammate Billy Bund was right behind, crossing third in 18:14.1.

Rounding out Michigan's five-man scoring roster were redshirt freshman Isaac Harding in sixth (18:21.8), sophomore Ben Hill in eighth (18:24.9) and sophomore Keenan Rebera in 10th (18:26.8).

Flanagan made a decisive move to separate from the pack with just about a mile-and-a-half remaining in the race, and was able to hold off a hard-charging Hall in the latest stages of the race.

"Ben got challenged coming up the long homestretch and managed to tough things out," Sullivan said. "It's good to see him back getting a win under his belt after a really tough injury-plagued year last year, so I think this is going to do a lot of good for his confidence moving forward."

With the race packed up at just before the race's halfway point coming through the 2,875-meter split -- 36 runners all within five seconds of the lead -- it was Bund who was leading the way for Michigan, running on the front edge of the group. Flanagan was just a step to his rear in 12th alongside Hill and redshirt freshman Jacob Lee.

Though the nature of having such a large pack meant the race had not yet truly begun -- that happens when the first move is made -- the Wolverines officially trailed in the mid-race standings to the Wolfpack, 22-47.

Harding waded through the most traffic of any Wolverine on the day in the second half of the race, moving up from 24th at the 2,875-meter split. Rebera made a strong nine-spot improvement over that same span.

Lee, redshirt freshman Andrew Lorant and sophomore Jordy Hewitt all came through within two seconds of one another in 12th, 14th and 15th, respectively, with redshirt freshman Jacob Branch on their tails in 16th.

Just as the Wolverines ran on Friday without the aid of returning scorers Aaron Baumgarten, Connor Mora and Micah Beller, so too did N.C. State also run without several of its returning scorers from last year's national 28th-place team.

Beller competed at the Michigan Open but trained through this weekend in Ann Arbor, while Baumgarten and Mora have yet to make their debuts after completing summer internships earlier this month.

"I think it was a good test for our guys, you can always take something positive out of winning," Sullivan said. "We're taking it with a little bit of a grain of salt, to be honest, because N.C. State had a couple guys running unattached and that would have made the race closer, but we also left three of our top guys at home, so there's a lot of positives to take from it."

The Wolverines' competition will step up to the next level in two weeks' time as they travel to South Bend, Indiana, for the Notre Dame Joe Piane Invitational on Sept. 29. In South Bend the Maize and Blue will have ample opportunities to pick up head-to-head wins as they seek a return to the NCAA Championships later this fall.