- ---Thursday, November 18, 1999 - The Michigan Daily - 15A
BY JON SCHWARnz * DAILY SPORTS WRITER
n cross-country running, it is some-
times easy to overlook the fourth
runner. As it stands, the first and sec-
id runners are usually the team's
stars, runners who are possibly
mpeting for the conference, regional,
even national title.
The third man is usually the team's
presentative in the second pack, try-
g to push to the front as much as pos-
ble and close the gap between himself
d the top runners. And the fifth man
the one that ties it all together by set-
ig the team's pack time.
But the fourth man is often left with-
t a role.
& Mark Pilja, Michigan's fourth
rner, the goal is to shed the position
at gives him no fame.
Pilja came to the Wolverines from
>rth High School in Naperville,. Ill.,
ere as a senior, he was one of the
tion's top recruits. Before Pilja set
>t in Ann Arbor, Michigan's runners
re well aware of the his impressive
'It was a big deal when we finally did
*him," senior co-captain Steven
wrence remembered. "We were all
ited about that"
But when Pilja started working out
:h the team, the new 'star' was not all
t he was cracked up to be. The new
e on the team made virtually no
While Pilja's performance wasn't
terrible, they were not what people were
expecting from a 'star' runner..
Much of this, team members said,
was due to an injury that he had been
nursing over the summer after his
senior year of high school. The ailment
prevented him from training as heavy as
he would have liked.
"I wasn't happy last season, but I had
a poor base from the summer" Pilja
said. "I don't think I was strong enough
Lawrence, for one, stood up in his
"When you're not running well, you
don't feel the competitive edge,"
Lawrence said. "You don't draw the
same experience when you run poorly
as you do when you run well."
The only race that Pilja was satisfied
with his freshman year was the NCAA
Great Lakes Regional, where he fin-
ished fifth for the Wolverines and 29th
Coming into this season, Pilja was
looking to prove, if only to himself, that
he was better than what he'd shown as a
He succeeded, running as a steady
fourth man all season long for one of
the best programs in the country.
"We're really lucky to have a fourth
man as good as Mark," Lawrence said.
"On a lot of other teams in the country,
Mark could be the one or two guy on
Lawrence characterizes his teammate
as easygoing, but after Pilja got a second
chance at the course he owned last year
at this past Saturday's NCAA Great
Lakes Regional, the sophomore was
While the 25th-place finish was
admirable in the 194-person field, Pilja
was looking for much better results.
"My goal was top 15, Pilja said. "I
have to make some adjustments. I have
to run better than I did this week."
In the long run, as Lawrence pointed
out, no one really cares about how any-
one does at regionals. While he did
agree that Pilja could have and probably
should have run better, he noted that
Michigan still has one race left this sea-
son for Pilja to redeem himself.
The real show is saved for the NCAA
Championships, to be run this Monday
in Bloomington, where Lawrence sees
his teammate finishing in the 50-70
"Nationals needs to be a big 'up' race
for us' Pilja said. "You have to run
well, so I'll get myself up for it."
Looking ahead to next year, Pilja is
going to have to become the runner that
coaches salivated over during the 1997
high school season.
With the impending graduation of the
team's two stars, co-captains Lawrence
and Jay Cantin, it's going to be up to
the younger runners to respond in much
the same way that this year's squad
responded to losing Don McLaughlin,
John Mortimer, and Todd Snyder last
"I think he and Mike (Wisniewski)
will be finishing one-two next year,"
Lawrence said. "He's going to get in the
mindset that he can run with the best
guys in the country. The day will come
when he'll be the number one man."
Outside of college, Pilja is consider-
ing participating in the Olympic Trials
before he finally hangs up his shoes.
"Jay is an inspiration," he said, in ref-
erence to Cantin's attempt to represent
Canada in the Olympic Games. "If I
ever get good enough, certainly I'll try."
Pilja feels lucky to be on a team like
Michigan, where he is running with
some of the nation's elite. He compared
Cantin and Lawrence to the coaches
that he learns from all the time.
"I can just follow what they do, and I
know they're doing things right," Pilja
said. "Everything from training to pre-
race preparation to actually racing, I
just gauge everything off of them.
"They're my teammates. It's reassur-
ing to run with them."
After watching him improve steadily this season, the men's cross country team is
counting on Mark Pilija to lead them in the seasons to come.
)ne last race, one last c Men's cross country
ck for two 'M' seniors signs three recruits
Ryan C. Moloney Ron Warhurst said, though Michigan is 4=By Ryan C. Moloney 1:52 800-meters to his credit.
ly Sports Writer ranked eighth in this week's . j Daily Sports Writer Hughes was a question mark
Around the beginning of May next MONDO/coaches poll. "I think we can The Michigan men's cross country yesterday afternoon, when
ar. when Ann Arbor finally emerges goanywhere from third to 25th but it's. team turned another na e in its his- nhnen his decision tomch
>m the doldrums of winter and the air
arks with the excitement of gradua-
n, Steve Lawrence and Jay Cantin will
ck on their cross country lives at
Two Big Ten titles, a Great Lakes
gional title, and two fourth-place team
ishes at the NCAA final meet.
But what will stick out the most in the
nds of the two departing captains will
what events transpired on Nov. 22 in
oomington - the last time they
nned the block 'M' for a cross country
going to take career races from every-
A hefty task to be sure, but General
Warhurst is lightening up on the troops
this week, doing what was unheard dur-
ing most of the season - reducing the
"Ron's told us, 'no more than eight
miles a day!"' Cantin said. "He keeps
reiterating that the work is already done
and there's no sense in getting uptight"
In fact, if there's a luxury in being the
25th team going in, it's in knowing that
:e. nobody will expect to look back and see
n today, four days before the a blue singlet around the four-mile mark
rines meet their season's destiny, - a priceless intangible for the
wrence and Cantin understand the Wolverines.
isiderable implications of the NCAA "There's pride on the line, but there's Steven Lawrence will need to run
al meet. no pressure," Cantin said. "Two years team is to place in the top five te
'It's probably the one Steve and I will ago, we were feelin' it - we had a super
aember the most for the rest of our team and we were built up by other national meet. As many as 25 r
rs," Cantin said. 'We should run our schools as a contender." could pass in an interval of 10 s
t ever." As usual, Warhurst refuses to make - not exactly a soothing pr
Anything less could spell trouble for any predictions. Yesterday, he deftly thought.
Wolverines, as this year's field is as dodged an inquiry about where he Michigan's famous strategy ofs
as any in recent memory - expects the team to finish, slow and surging in the end can w
sas is the preliminary favorite with "Anywhere between first and last" the patience is there.
rth Carolina State, Stanford and Warhurst said with a wink. "It's going to be crucial tc
sconsin among the upset candidates. Probably closer to first, but stranger focused in this one,"Tom Caughlii
'We're ranked 25th going in," coach things have happened in the hit-or-miss "At nationals, it's like Bulls on Pa
[olleyball reassesses final goals
fter difficult Big Ten season
the race of his life if the men's cross country
ams in the NCAA Championships on Monday.
e-race WIN a$000
tarting wan w w.ourGiftlist.com/mi
n said. The E-way to share your
rade. . Chitas lsta no.rm.f
tory, inking three recruits yesterday
on the last day of the early signing
Joining the Wolverines for the
2000 season are Brian Turner of
Omaha, Neb., Mason Ward from
Cincinnati, and John Hughes of
Turner was the individual state
cross country champion of Nebraska
n his senior campaign, running 4:09
n the mile and 1:52 in the 800
meters as a junior. Ward was an Ohio
state champion in the 3200 meters as
a junior. He holds a 4:12 mile and a
pna inns c ision to coacn Ion
Warhurst. Hughes was a state cham-
pion in the mile last year, clocking a
4:10 personal record. He also ran the
800 meters in 1:53.
"We've never signed anyone in the
early period before," Warhurst said.
"These three are very intriguing
because their track PRs are times
from their 11th-grade year.
"We've got a whole other season
to watch them progress."
Both Ward and Turner have also
run under 49 seconds for 400 meters
- a pre-requisite for college milers,
JOHN GUESS AGENCY
INSURANCE FOR EDUCATIONAL EMPLOYEES
y Sports Writer
nference titles, tournament berths
such distractions no longer plague the
chigan volleyball team. The young
lverines have earned the privilege of
ishing their season free of the pres-
that comes with these possibilities.
hough such a modest goal may be a
cry from the potential shown at the
's outset, Michigan still has pride
In its final homestand of the season,
chigan will attempt to halt its five-
itch losing streak when the Illinois and
iana visit Cliff Keen Arena this
ekend. And the Wolverine's get their
ance for retribution.
The Wolverines' most recent outing
a sweep at the hands of Ohio State -
urred Michigan coach Mark Rosen to
Ice some negative comments about his
0 performance, a rarity for him.
"Ohio State was a set back," Rosen
d. "We didn't play well or execute at
, we didn't play very hard, and our
ort was low."
Rosen has praised his team's penchant
fighting back when it's down, and
ming off of the disappointment in
>lumbus, the Wolverines have an ideal
portunity to showcase this skill. But
r the net, the Illini provide a formi-
tobstacle to resiliency.
Sitting in fourth place in the confer-
ce standings, Illinois (10-6 Big Ten,
-8 overall) already has a home victory
er Michigan in its pocket, dispensing
the Wolverines in four games.
Illinois was carried by its attackers in
me one, establishing a trend that would
maintained throughout the match.
ichigan was able to capture game two
hind a .324 hitting percentage, but
ABo dgames three and four, as Illinois
td the favor, registering a sizzling
57 over the two-game stretch.
"We won the second game, came out
d played well, then we just didn't e*e-
te well at all," Rosen said of the team's
st matchup. "We have to be more
:ady and consistent in execution,
cause they will."
Rosen feels that Michigan's chances
victory against Illinois and Indianaare
m dent on similar factors.
e most important thing we need to
Annie Maxwell and the rest of the Michig
five-match losing streak when they host i
do is work hard, and that's the bottom
line," he said.
In keeping with this theme,
Michigan's previous meeting with the
Hoosiers played out a little like the one
with Illinois. In Bloomington, the
Wolverines were swept to drop out of a
fifth-place tie with Indiana in the confer-
ence. Again, Indiana got off to a strong
start in game one and withstood a
Michigan comeback to preserve the win.
"We were right with Indiana, ahead of
them most of the first game, but we let
them break through;' Rosen said.
Despite the earlier results, he remains
confident in Michigan's prospects for the
"I think that both are very beatable
teams. We're pretty even with them if we
execute well," Rosen said. "The key is
being able to execute for a longer period
an volleyball team will try to kill their
llinois and indiana this weekend.
of time- they're good at that?'
According to Rosen, the Wolverines
are aiming for different objectives in the
later part of the season. Because of its
mediocre record, Michigan's outlook has
changed by necessity.
"At this point, a lot of your long-term
goals really go out the door. This is a
team that wanted to get in the NCAA
Tournament and finish in the top half of
the Big Ten, and those aren't possible
goals right now," Rosen said.
But, it isn't as if the Wolverines are
lacking aims or motivation. It is just a
matter of resetting those goals.
"What we're trying to do right now is
to finish strong, give ourselves a good
note to go out on;' Rosen said. "All four
of our remaining matches are winnable.
Earning redemption against Illinois
and Indiana would be an excellent start.