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September 02, 2014 - Image 15

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The Michigan Daily, 2014-09-02

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

September 2, 2014 -- 5B

The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom September 2, 2014 - 5B

The best damn team on this campus

DEXTER, Mich. - The
best team on campus
sets up a locker room
at two picnic
tables under
a gazebo.
There are no
showers or
expensive
training
rooms. You
probably GREG
haven't or
won't see GARNO
their home
course.
The coach of the best team on
campus rides his bike while he
works. He wears a windbreaker
with a ball cap, but you
wouldn't recognize his face.
His best runners are just over
five feet. You probably wouldn't
think twice if they walked past
you on the Diag.
The best team on campus
is ranked first in the nation
and could win its first national
championship in program
history. But you might have
gone the rest of the year
without ever knowing a thing
about them.
And they wouldn't care.
Because the best team on this
campus has never been in the
spotlight. And it won't act any
differently now that it is.
The Michigan women's
cross country team, after all,
isn't a team that brings in TV
money or draws large fan bases.
Cross country itself has never
attracted attention, because
why would anyone want to
watch a three-mile race when
they could watch people hitting
each other?
Most often, fans watch
runners go by for a fleeting
moment, and then silence. In
the Wolverines' only home meet
of the season - albeit, more a
scrimmage than invitational -
the men's and women's teams
might have collectively drawn
about 100 people. Most of them
were parents.

it also helps Kings of Cross
that it returns
its top-10 NCAA Rankings
runners after
fnsng 1. M ich igan
finishing 2Oeo
fourth in the 3. Florida State
nation last 4. Stanford
season. And 5. Georgetown
a coach in his 6. Michigan St.
23rd season 7. Arkansas
who has led 8. Colorado
his team to 9. Iowa State
five top-six 10. Virginia
finishes and
three straight
regional titles in the last
decade.
Coaches took note, and
voted them as the No. 1 team
in the nation - the first time in
program history.
But you can probably guess
how they reacted to that
distinction.
"It's pretty cool, but rankings
don't mean much," Osika said.
"Once we start racing, actions
speak louder than words."
Added McGuire: "It's
a prognostication, not a
coronation. They know there's
work to be done."
Or senior captain Brooke
Handler: "We just talk about
trying to follow the process
and do everything we can to
get where we need to be in
November."
This team may not win the
national championship this
year, and that's OK, because
they'll come back next year to
go through the same process.
And you likely won't pay
attention to them next year.
But this year, if only for this
season, know that the best team
on this campus is running by,
and their coach is following on
his bike.
Garno would love to talk
about his own cross country
career at ggarno@umich.edu or
on Twitter: @.GGarno. And of
course, if you're looking to follow
the women's cross country team,
the Daily will have coverage.

ALLISON FARRAND/Daily
The Michigan women's cross country team is ranked No.1 in the country, yet few people follow their season. Garno sheds some light on the upstart program.

They won't have an
opportunity to run out in front
of 100,000 fans screaming with
the marching band playing, nor
will they have to worry about
their reaction after a bad race.
But they do hug their parents,
find friends and laugh with
teammates after the race.
There won't be interviews
from ESPN on camera or a
feature writer from Sports
Illustrated asking about their
life history.
There won't even be the
pressure of winning the next
race because almost all races
are non-scoring until the end of
the season.
That won't make a difference,
because the best team on
campus knows nothing else.
Instead, they know how to
run fast and what it takes to

win.
"It's just attention to detail,"
said coach Mike McGuire.
"Acting on what we're talking
about. It's
easy to
want to be
good. The The c
tough part
is actually the be
following
through on on cam
it. It's more his
than just h sbike
the two or
two and a WC
half hours
that they're
in practice
on a daily basis."
So McGuire's team runs its
first meet of the season against
itself even if there are no fans,
aimingto pack up together,

0
s
[p
r

not just race all out. They run
through the first mile together,
then break away.
With 200 meters to go,
sophomore
Erin
Finn, the
ach of reigning
Big Ten
t team Athlete of
ries Year and
us rides Freshman
1 1 1 of the
while he Year, was
-ks cruising
to a first-
place finish.
But junior
Shannon
Osika was in an all-out sprint
behind her until she eventually
caught up with 50 meters to go.
There were no lines of fans
along the finish line, and Finn

didn't hear the crowd pointing
out Osika closing on her.
When Finn did recognize her
competition, the pair met stride
for stride to an actual photo
finish. Neither girl knew Osika
won, though. They hadn't seen
results after their race. They
cooled down with everyone else
in the next step toward winning
the national championship.
"Each of them can make
the other one better, and they
all have strengths that others
can feed off of," McGuire
said. "The big thing is that
they get along really well. We
have a good balance between
being competitive and being
harmonious."
These are the things that
help make the Michigan
women's cross country team the
best on the campus. Of course,

Intrasquad meetcompetitive

By JUSTIN MEYER
Daily Sports Writer
DEXTER, Mich. - First-year
Michigan coach Kevin Sullivan
made it clear to his runners
before Friday's Michigan Open
that he didn't want them to push
the pace.
For the 22nd-ranked Wolver-
ines men's cross country team,
the sole home event of the season
represented little more than a
tuneup and a convenient setting
to get used to pre-race jitters.
But sometimes, boys will be
boys.
In the final meters of the non-
scoring, intrasquad 5K, junior
standout Tony Smoragiewicz
was clear of the pack and being
cheered toward the finish line,
but fellow junior Mason Ferlic
was closing fast. Smoragiewicz,
not to be surpassed, used his best
box-out maneuver to keep Ferlic
at bay to barely pull off the win.
Smoragiewicz, who competed
as anunattached runner, finished
in 15:19.8, just eight-tenths of a
second ahead of his teammate.
Ferlic, a first-team All-Amer-
ican in 2013, couldn't contain a
smile when he talked about get-
ting edged out of first place.
"(Smoragiewicz) wanted to

win there at the end," Ferlic said,
"but it was all in good sport. We
were trying to tell each other,
'Don't race at the very end.' It was
supposed to be a workout. Obvi-
ously, though, it's just fun to be
competitive."
The rest of the meet was some-
what uneventful as the team
stuck to Sullivan's advice, chug-
ging toward the finish line in a
large pack for much of the race.
The upcoming season, though,
should provide plenty of fire-
works. The drama started in the
spring when, after second- and
third-place finishes in the Big
Ten the past two seasons, former
coach Alex Gibbs was released.
The decision reflected the
Wolverines' poor performance
in distance track and field events,
but it still seemed to take some
runners aback.
"It was a tough change for me
before I got to know (Sullivan),"
said redshirt junior August
Pappas. "I was pretty close with
myoldcoach,soitwasn'teasy.But
I've been really impressed with
how smoothly everything has
gone, how calm and composed
coach Sullivan has been with
the change. He's impressed, I
think, all of us with his level of
professionalism and focus."

Added Ferlic: "It's been a
smooth transition. Obviously, a
lot of the guys really liked coach
Gibby, and it was a little rough at
the beginning, but coach Sullivan
has been great. He really took the
time to learn us as a team."
Sullivan, a former standout
distance runner for Michigan,
now has the challenge of
equaling past success in cross
country while delivering better
results in the spring season. That
task comes with the additional
hurdles of coaching a team with
little championship experience
and only one senior.
Friday,. the Wolverines did
see a promising performance
from redshirt freshman Austin
Baumgarten, who finished the
race in fourth with a time of
15:24, but the competition for
roster spots is still thick and the
clock is ticking.
"I'didn't want (the Michigan
Open) to turn into a race where
guys were racing for spots nine
through 12," Sullivansaid. "We're
going let the next few weeks play
out and determine who are our
fittest guys."
And Sullivan returned to
solving that puzzle immediately
following the finish, lining the
teamup for post-race sprints.

ALLISON FRAND/Dai
Junior Shannon Osika has won three consecutive Michigan Opens, capped by Friday's win over teammaterio Finn.
Osika claims Mich. Open

By JAKE LOURIM
DailySportsEditor
As far as competitions go,
Friday's Michigan Open was
little more than a tune-up for
the No. 1 women's cross country
team.
"It's easier to get competitive
with a red shirt or a green
shirt than it is with my own
teammates," said senior captain
Brook Handler.
But the Wolverines looked
just fine competing against their
own maize shirts.
Junior Shannon Osika and
sophomore Erin Finn took each
other right down to the wire,
finishing with identical times
of 17:01.5. One final push put
Osika past the finish line a split
second sooner, giving her a third
straight Michigan Open title.
Finn had the slimmest of
leads for most of the race, but
Osika pushed her the whole way
after the two broke away from
the pack.
"We don't really look at it
like competition," Osika said.
"Nobody's trying to beat each
other on the team, it's more just
pulling each other along. It's
nice to have that motivation."
Handler said the plan going

into the race was to stay together
as a team for the first mile.
Almost all of the 29 Wolverines
competing did that, and then
the top runners separated
themselves.
Handler finished 34 seconds
behind the leaders - an
uncharacteristically large deficit
for Handler, according to coach
Mike McGuire. According
to McGuire, Osika, Finn and
Handler formed the team's
lead pack at camp, which ended
Thursday.
"Each of them can make the
otheronebetter,andtheyallhave
strengths that others can feed
off of," McGuire said. "The big
thing is that they get along really
well. We have a good balance
between being competitive and
being harmonious."
Fifth-year senior Taylor
Pogue and redshirt junior Anna
Pasternak followed the top
three with times of 17:45.4 and
17:51.9, respectively. Just over 50
seconds separated the top five
runners, a time McGuire said he
would like to trim down to 40
seconds over 6K.
Nineteen of 32 runners were
Wolverines, including the top
10 finishers. The rest were
unattached.

While McGuire hopes to
improve the depth from Friday's
meet, he also wants to maintain
Finn, Osika and Handler as
three of the nation's best. The
trio finished 30th, 56th and
64th, respectively at the NCAA
Championships last year, helping
the team to a fourth-place finish
nationally.
Junior Taylor Manett,
another returner from lastyear's
squad, was 57th at the NCAA
Championships.
The returning talent earned
the Wolverines a preseason No. 1
rankingthis year.
"The ranking is calling a lot of
attention," McGuire said. "We
have more depth than we've had
in the last couple years, but you
get to the national meet, front
running is important. We feel
we're starting to develop front
runners."
Though the No. 1 ranking
is Michigan's first in program
history, the team is slow to bring
it up early in the season.
Whether they acknowledge it
or not, the Wolverines have one
of the best returning contingents
in the nation.
And as Osika and Finn proved
Friday, they'll be pushing each
other every step of the way.

Tony Smoragiewicz pulled off a win in the Michigan Open, boxing out Mason Ferlic to claim the intrasquad event.

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