U-M Men Defy Expectations, Finishes Eighth at Wisconsin
Provided by U of M
Site: Thomas Zimmer Championship Course (Madison, Wis.)
Event: Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational
U-M Team Finish: 8th place of 35 teams (269 points)
Top U-M Individual: Ben Flanagan, 22nd (24:04.9)
Next U-M Event: Friday, Oct. 20 -- at Eastern Michigan Fall Classic (Dexter, Mich.)
MADISON, Wis. -- All season long, University of Michigan men's cross country head coach Kevin Sullivan has been confident that his national 25th-ranked Wolverines have the potential to exceed their rank and be a special team. His men proved him right in the de facto regular-season finale at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational on Friday (Oct. 13), as they blew past their pre-meet ranking to finish eighth in a loaded field that featured 20 of the nation's 30 highest-ranked teams.
Paced by strong front-running from redshirt senior Ben Flanagan and game-changing late-race surges from redshirt seniors Aaron Baumgarten, Connor Mora and Billy Bund, the Wolverines scored 269 points, claiming a tiebreak over UCLA for eighth place in the field of 35 teams. By virtue of Michigan's Nos. 3, 4 and 5 runners beating UCLA's, the Wolverines were given the edge.
"I think we're about where we need to be," Sullivan said. "We still have a few things we can work on to be a little bit better than today, but I thought overall it was a good step forward with still the ability to get better over the next few weeks. That's exciting as we head into Big Tens in a couple weeks."
By a margin only slightly less narrow, the Wolverines were the top team from the Big Ten in the field as the conference championships loom in two weekends' time. Michigan State took 10th with 271 points, with Minnesota just two spots back in 12th -- but 145 points behind the Wolverines. Also from the Big Ten were Purdue (20th), Wisconsin (25th), Illinois (28th) and Indiana (29th).
"We've seen all the top teams in the Big Ten now, and it shows that we are one of a number of favorites for the Big Ten meet," Sullivan said. "There are some teams today that had an off day and didn't show their true strengths, so it's something we can't take for granted, either."
Michigan was also the top team in the standings from the Great Lakes Region, ahead of many of those teams listed, but additionally Eastern Michigan (22nd).
After coming through the two kilometer checkpoint in 19th on the eight-kilometer circuit at Thomas Zimmer Championships Course, a series of surges at various intervals moved the Wolverines up to 11th at the race's four-kilometer halfway point, to ninth at six kilometers, and, ultimately, to eighth overall.
Flanagan took 22nd overall in 24:04.9 after running top-15 with lead or chase pack for much of the race. Positioned in eighth after just two kilometers, he was able to stay clear of the bunched-up pack behind him. Free to run his own race without the worry of navigating much traffic, he checked in 13th at 4K and 15th at 6K.
Baumgarten, Mora and Bund all made significant late-race moves to push the Wolverines toward the top of the standings. Baumgarten was 34th in 24:11.0, Mora was 58th (24:23.7) and Bund was 71st (24:30.7). Redshirt freshman Isaac Harding held strong in the final two kilometers after a push of his own to finish 84th as the Wolverines' final scoring runner in 24:37.2.
Baumgarten moved up more than 60 spots in the second half of the competition, including 18 in the final two kilometers. Bund ran down 47 opponents in the final four kilometers, including 25 in that same last mile-and-a-half. Last among those he chased down was Colin Burke of UCLA, whom he edged at the line by half a second.
The No. 4-runner matchup between Bund and Burke was the closest of any of the five scorers in the tiebreak between Michigan and UCLA, ultimately giving Michigan the edge in the team standings. Ties are broken by comparing teams' No. 1 through No. 5 runners against one another's; the team with the best-of-five earns the tiebreak.
Mora was the first to make his move, jumping up from 153rd at two kilometers to 84th at four, and then into the 50s where he would ultimately remain by six.
Harding positioned himself in the 80s in the third quarter of the race, jumping from 105th to 89th between four and six kilometers.
"We're showing that we're keeping good composure in the big field, which is great because we're going to need that at regionals and nationals," Sullivan said. "We do have to make sure that in the smaller field at Big Tens we are engaged in the front of the race. We proved we can run well in the big field, now we have to prove we can run well in the smaller fields."
Redshirt sophomores Ben Hill and Keenan Rebera rounded out Michigan seven-man lineup in 105th and 198th, respectively.
In the "B" race prior to the main event, redshirt senior Micah Beller led the Wolverines to a third-place team finish in the secondary nine-team competition. Running as high as fourth place through six kilometers, Beller took eighth overall by race's end in 24:50.4.
Redshirt freshman Jacob Lee was 17th -- moving up 17 spots in the final mile-and-a-quarter -- followed by true freshman Jack Aho in 21st for his Michigan debut. The two were separated by just three seconds, 24:06.1 to 25:09.1.
Redshirt freshman Joost Plaetinck was 29th and redshirt sophomore Jordy Hewitt was 44th to round out the scoring lineup.
Michigan totaled 78 points in the "B" race, behind 60 for Stanford and 66 for Colorado.
Though the Eastern Michigan Fall Classic officially closes out the regular season next Friday, the team's attention is now fully turned toward the postseason. The Big Ten Championships will be held Sunday, Oct. 29, at Indiana, followed two weeks later by the NCAA Great Lakes Regional in Terre Haute, Indiana, on Friday, Nov. 10.
Should all go well at regionals, the NCAA Championships in Louisville, Kentucky, on Saturday, Nov. 18, would close out the season.