Big 10s Preview: #1 Michigan St. vs. #4 Michigan in the Women’s Race; Can the Wisconsin Men Start a New Streak?

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By LetsRun.com
October 31, 2014

The last major conference meet is also the best one on the women’s side, as the 2014 Big 10 Cross Country Championships will feature three teams in the top 10 (including #1 Michigan State) and two other teams in the top 20. The men’s race is not without intrigue either, as #6 Wisconsin will aim to start a new streak after Indiana ended its run of 14 straight conference titles in 2013. This race will be extra-special as it’s the 100th Big 10 XC Championships (David Woods wrote a nice retrospective on the first 99 here). We preview both races below, starting with the men.

Details

Location: Ashton Cross Country Course, Iowa City, Iowa

Start time: Sunday, 10:45 a.m. CT

Men’s Race: Can the Badgers start a new streak?

Malachy Schrobilgen was an All-American and Big 10 champ as a freshman

Wisconsin’s Malachy Schrobilgen was an All-American and Big 10 champ as a freshman

Teams

2013 results

1. Indiana, 51 points
2. Michigan, 66
3. Wisconsin, 71
4. Minnesota, 136
5. Illinois, 140
6. Purdue, 163
7. Michigan State, 170
8. Ohio State, 182
9. Penn State, 209
10. Iowa, 273
11. Nebraska, 314

(Northwestern and Maryland don’t have a men’s XC program; Rutgers joined the conference this year)

Ranked teams: #6 Wisconsin, #14 Michigan, #20 Indiana, #22 Michigan State

For just the fifth time since 1981, a team other than Wisconsin won the Big 10 championship. Indiana put four in the top 10 to pull the upset and on paper, the Hoosiers seemed favored to defend their title in 2014 as none of their top five were seniors. Indiana has been slow to get going this year, however, taking just 14th at the Wisconsin Invitational after finishing 8th at NCAAs last year. The Hoosiers have missed Carl Smith (8th at Big 10s last year), who likely won’t race this season after recovering from an Achilles injury, according to coach Ron Helmer.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen over the course of the next several weeks but I don’t put a whole lot of stock in cross country results from September and October probably because those are the two biggest training months of any training cycle,” Helmer said. “Typically, we’re just slow to get our racing legs. I don’t think we’ve underachieved because I know what our workouts have looked like and I think that everything is in place that we can have a chance to be a pretty good championship team.”

Even if Indiana wasn’t struggling, they still might not be the favorites heading into Big 10s as Wisconsin has reloaded following its third-place finish last year. Though the result was typical of a Wisconsin team, the Badgers squad that took third at the Wisconsin Invitational two weeks is much changed from a year ago, with four freshmen in the top six. Michael Van Voorhis and 2013 Big 10 individual champ Malachy Schrobilgen ran well a year ago and have carried over their form to this season. The surprise has been the rapid maturation of the team’s youngsters, including true freshmen Joe Hardy and Morgan McDonald, the team’s #3 and #4 runners at Wisconsin. Perhaps you chalk up a little bit of the Badgers’ success to home-course advantage, but that doesn’t explain the 120-point gap between Wisconsin and the next-closest Big 10 school in that meet, Michigan. Indeed, all four ranked Big 10 schools (plus Minnesota) competed at Wisconsin and none were remotely close to the Badgers. Here’s how they’d look if we re-scored the meet removing every other school:

1. Wisconsin, 31 points
2. Michigan, 56
3. Indiana, 79
4. Michigan State, 80
5. Minnesota, 97

Those results pretty fairly reflect the current state of the Big 10. Michigan probably underperformed a little at Wisconsin and should be closer on Sunday. Consider that, according to messageboard poster 26mi235, Michigan’s top five lost 57 places over the final two kilometers at Wisconsin. If you subtract 57 points from the Wolverines’ score, you get 239. That’s still not close to Wisconsin (176), but it’s well clear of Indiana (394), the next Big 10 school.

“It’s hard to say with 100% certainty [whether we can catch Wisconsin],” Michigan head coach (and former Canadian’s great miler) Kevin Sullivan said. “I like where we’re at in terms of our fitness level. When you really dig into the results from Wisconsin, even though the point spread from Wisconsin to us and us to Indiana and Michigan State looks like a lot, when you start looking how close behind everyone is in terms of seconds behind each scorer, all the top teams in the Big 10 are pretty close in ability right now.”

WisconsinMichiganIndianaMichigan State
Finisher #1Michael Van Voorhis, 24:02Mason Ferlic, 23:59Matthew Schwartzer, 24:20Caleb Rhynard, 24:06
Finisher #2Malachy Schrobilgen, 24:07Tony Smoragiewicz, 24:18Evan Esselink, 24:22Alex Wilson, 24:23
Finisher #3Joe Hardy, 24:14Ben Flanagan, 24:26Jason Crist, 24:27Sherod Hardt, 24:37
Finisher #4Morgan McDonald, 24:17Aaron Baumgarten, 24:32Owen Skeete, 24:39Ben Miller, 24:41
Finisher #5Carl Hirsch, 24:25August Pappas, 24:35Kieran Reilly, 24:49Ben Carruthers, 24:48
Secs back per manN/A918.418

That’s true to a degree, but as the table above shows, Indiana and Michigan State have some work to do. Nine seconds per man is doable for Michigan, especially considering the ground Michigan lost over the final 2k. But you can also spin the numbers the other way — the margin could have been larger if the pace at Wisconsin had been honest from the gun. One thing is clear: on paper, Wisconsin is the favorite to start a new streak in 2014.

Individuals

2013 results

1. Malachy Schrobilgen, Wisconsin
2. Matt McClintock, Purdue
3. Matt Fischer, Penn State
4. Caleb Rhynard, Michigan State
5. Jason Crist, Indiana
6. Jannis Topfer, Illinois
7. Rorey Hunter, Indiana
8. Carl Smith, Indiana (has not raced in 2014)
9. Mason Ferlic, Michigan
10. Matthew Schwartzer, Indiana

Schrobilgen is the top returner from last year but it’s hard to call him the favorite considering he was only the fourth Big 10 finisher at Wisconsin (and second on his own team). Michigan’s Mason Ferlic, who won the Notre Dame Invitational and was the top Big 10 finisher at Wisconsin, is the slight favorite on paper but it figures to be very tight at the top. Wisconsins’s #1 Van Voorhis was just three seconds behind Ferlic at Wisconsin and Caleb Rhynard (seven seconds) and Schrobilgen (eight seconds) weren’t much further back.

The only other guy who could win it is Purdue’s Matt McClintock, who was the top Big 10 finisher at Pre-Nats (sixth). McClintock lost to Ferlic at Notre Dame (he was 12 seconds back) so it’s hard to pick him over Ferlic, but he was runner-up a year ago and is more than capable of moving up to first.

Women’s race: Michigan State vs. Michigan, Part I

MSU's Leah O'Connor (middle) and Katie Landwehr (right) at NCAAs last year

MSU’s Leah O’Connor (middle) and Katie Landwehr (right) at NCAAs last year

Teams

2013 results

1. Michigan State, 43 points
2. Michigan, 55
3. Minnesota, 68
4. Penn State, 143
5. Ohio State, 157
T-6. Indiana, 158
T-6. Wisconsin, 158
8. Purdue, 221
9. Illinois, 241
10. Northwestern, 264
11. Nebraska, 320
12. Iowa, 369

(Rutgers and Maryland joined the conference this year)

Ranked teams: #1 Michigan State, #4 Michigan, #8 Wisconsin, #19 Ohio State, #20 Minnesota

Fans of women’s running have had this meet circled on their calendars for a while. Even though Michigan and Michigan State are no longer 1-2 in the coaches’ poll, both are still national title contenders, with Big 10s the first of three meetings between the schools this season. Michigan State, fresh off a commanding victory at the Wisconsin Invitational, soared to #1 in the country for the first time (dating back to 1995, the first year of the USTFCCCA archive). Michigan ran at Pre-Nats, making a direct comparison impossible, but they lost to Oregon, which in turn was spanked by Michigan State at the Bill Dellinger Invitational, 20-68. Of course, those results need to be taken with a grain of salt as Bill Dellinger was way back on September 5 (Oregon also lost to unranked Portland and didn’t run Megan Patrignelli, its #1 at Pre-Nats).

It’s undeniable that Michigan State, which scored 87 points against a field with 22 ranked teams, ran better two weeks ago than Michigan, which scored 143 against a field with six ranked teams (though it did contain four of the top seven). The Spartans, defending Big 10 champs and winners of three of the last four titles, are the team to beat in Iowa City on Sunday. But how much of an edge do they have over the Wolverines? Lets’s compare their top fives from a week ago, head-to-head.

Runner #1 
Michigan State: Rachele Schulist. 2nd at Wisconsin, 5th at Roy Griak. Track pbs: 4:28/16:01
Michigan: Erin Finn. 4th at Pre-Nats, 2nd at Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown. Track pbs: 15:26/32:41
Comment: On paper, Finn is the more accomplished runner, but Schulist has had the better cross country season so far.
Edge: MICHIGAN STATE

Runner #2
Michigan State: Leah O’Connor. 9th at Wisconsin, 9th at Roy Griak. Track pbs: 4:15/16:09/9:36 steeple (NCAA steeple champ)
Michigan: Shannon Osika. 23rd at Pre-Nats, 3rd at Battle in Beantown. Track pbs: 4:17/16:09
Comment: The two have near-identical track pbs, but O’Connor has been more impressive in 2014.
Edge: MICHIGAN STATE

Runner #3
Michigan State: Lindsay Clark. 14th at Wisconsin, 12th at Roy Griak. Track pbs: 4:25/16:09
Michigan: Brook Handler. 25th at Pre-Nats, 7th at Battle in Beantown. Track pbs: 4:16/16:04
Comment: Clark ran better two weeks ago, but Handler is better on the track and beat her in two of three XC races last year (though not at Big 10s).
Edge: EVEN

Runner #4
Michigan State: Julia Otwell. 32nd at Wisconsin, 33rd at Roy Griak. Track pbs: 4:22/16:10
Michigan: Megan Weschler. 43rd at Pre-Nats, 16th at Battle in Beantown. Track pbs: 4:29/16:36
Comment: Weschler was 10th at Big 10s last year (Otwell redshirted) but Otwell’s higher finish two weeks ago and superior track pbs earn her the nod.
Edge: MICHIGAN STATE

Runner #5
Michigan State: Sara Kroll. 35th at Wisconsin, 18th at Roy Griak. Track pbs: 4:24/16:16
Michigan: Taylor Manett. 48th at Pre-Nats, 28th at Battle in Beantown. Track pbs: 4:28/16:40
Comment: Kroll redshirted last season but was the Big 10 individual champ in 2012; Manett was a solid 14th in 2013, but her track pbs and 2014 performance put her behind Kroll.
Edge: MICHIGAN STATE

You could make the argument that Finn, the reigning champion, should be favored over Schulist, but the individual field was stronger at Wisconsin and Schulist still managed to place second, while Finn was just fourth at Pre-Nats. Schulist has improved a ton since taking 12th at Big 10s last year as a redshirt freshman and should probably be the slight favorite for the individual title. Even ceding Finn the win over Schulist, the Spartans have an edge or are even at every other position and boast superior depth to the Wolverines. MSU’s #7 at Wisco, Alexis Wiersma, was their #5 at Roy Griak and they still won handily. Michigan still has solid depth (it’s #7 from Pre-Nats, Taylor Pogue, was their #5 at the Battle in Beantown) but its #5 has been further back in races than MSU’s. Additionally, the Spartans’ #6 at Wisco was just seven seconds back of their #5, compared to 16 for the Wolverines at Pre-Nats. With an edge at four of the five scoring positions and at #6/#7, Michigan State appears to be the clear favorite at Big 10s.

In the non-Michigan division, #8 Wisconsin should jump up several spots from its T-6th-place finish last year. The Badgers were a surprising fourth at the Wisconsin Invitational, 216 points up on the next-highest Big 10 team, #19 Ohio State. It would take a huge performance from Ohio State or #20 Minnesota to seize third from the Badgers.

Individuals

2013 results

1. Erin Finn, Michigan
2. Leah O’Connor, Michigan State
3. Laura Docherty, Minnesota
4. Michelle Thomas, Ohio State
5. Katie Landwehr, Michigan State
6. Katie Borchers, Ohio State
7. Samantha Ginter, Indiana
8. Molly Kayfes, Minnesota
9. Lindsay Clark, Michigan State
10. Megan Weschler, Michigan

Obviously Michigan and Michigan State both figure to have several individuals in the top 10, with Schulist a slight favorite over Finn to come in first (as discussed above). Wisconsin’s Sarah Disanza was the top non-Michigan State finisher at Wisconsin (12th, 3rd Big 10 finisher overall), while Penn State true freshman Elizabeth Chikotas was eighth at Pre-Nats, behind only Finn. It would be a shock to see Disanza, Chikotas, or any other non-Michigan/MSU runner take the individual crown.


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