URBANA, Ill. - The Michigan State women's cross country team captured its second-straight Big Ten Championship on Sunday, Oct. 30 in Urbana, Ill. The win marked the team's fourth conference crown, and second in as many years. MSU posted a team score of 55 to better Michigan's 61 by six points, the sixth narrowest margin of victory in conference history.
"Today was certainly a team win," said MSU's director of cross country and track & field Walt Drenth. "To have each of our top seven finish ahead of the fifth runner for the rest of the field speaks to how much of a team effort this championship was. We are a different team this year compared to last year. One of the most enjoying things with this group of girls is that everyone has a role on the team. Everyone is willing to stick their neck out to help the team of the team. It has really been a pleasure working with this team.
"This win certainly helps set the program up for years to come. It will help put Michigan State on the radar nationally by winning these back-to-back titles. When you win consistently, and look to make your 11th-straight trip to the NCAA Championships, it certainly helps us in making MSU more of a nationally known cross country team.
"Today has really been a great testament to the goals of the team, and I am really proud of each of them. We have seen exceptional leadership from Coach Senakiewich and the sports medicine team, and this just doesn't happen overnight. A lot of individuals have worked hard in helping the success here today."
Sophomore Julia Otwell paced the women individual with her sixth-place finish. Otwell turned in a personal-best time of 20:30. Otwell was joined by classmate Sara Kroll and senior Carlie Green for most of the race. As a result of Otwell's finish, she earned first-team All-Big Ten honors.
"Julia and Sara both had fantastic runs this afternoon," Drenth said about his sophomore leaders. "Julia improved significantly from last year, and is now one of the conference's elite runners. For Sara, she did not even run at the nationals for us, and now she is an all-conference runner and is one of our top individuals. Their will and determination to just get better really showed today. I was really proud of the way they both raced today."
Using Green's leadership, Kroll finished just ahead of the Milford, Mich., native in eighth place, clocking in a career-best 20:35. Green placed ninth with a time of 20:36 to give MSU three top 10 finishers in the race. Both Green and Kroll earned second-team All-Big Ten honors.
MSU's scoring concluded when senior Rebekah Smeltzer and junior Rachael McFarlane crossed the finish in 15th and 17th, respectively. Smeltzer clocked in a career-best 20:46, while McFarlane crossed in personal-high 20:48.
"Both Carlie and Bekah have been solid runners for us all season long," said Drenth on his two seniors. "Really, this is a testament to their will and leadership. They both were big difference makers for us in the way they ran through the field today. For Carlie, she kept Julia and Sara together for the duration of the race, and willed them to their finish today. The three of them really moved through the pack together. Bekah did the exact same thing with Rachel, and took her under her wing. They both made sure that they were continuously moving past other runners. Their leadership really helped the underclassmen today.
"Rachel was our seventh individual earlier this season at Wisconsin, and this was her first Big Ten Championship she has ever competed in. To have her come out and finish in the top 20 in the conference, and race the way she did, especially from rebounding from the struggles she has previously had. Her perseverance has just been fantastic."
Finishing in MSU's top seven was freshman Leah O'Connor and junior Katie Haines. O'Connor crossed in at 21:00 for 27th, just moments a head of Haines 28th-place time of 21:00.
"Katie and Leah both had a huge impact on the outcome of the race," noted Drenth. "When your sixth and seventh runners finish ahead of the remainder of the field's fifth individual, it makes a difference in the scoring. They pushed Michigan's point total back by finishing where they did. Our strength in our team isn't in the front, it is actually towards the back."
Also competing at the Big Ten Championships were sophomores Olivia Sydow (56th - 21:30) and Megan Rodgers (61st - 21:42).
Claiming the individual crown was Penn State's Caitlin Lane, finishing the 6,000-meter course in 19:58,
Michigan finished just six points behind the Spartans, notching 61 points en route to second place. Penn State took third with 71 points.
For the men, freshman David Madrigal paced the Green and White with his time of 24:37, placing him for 24th overall.
"I was really pleased with David today, especially in the late stages of the race," said Drenth. "He really stepped forward and took some chances."
Seniors Joe Dimambro and Kevin Yarnell were the second and third Spartans to cross the finish in 32nd and 37th, respectively. Dimambro clocked in at 24:34, while Yarnell finished the course in 24:39.
"Joe has done an outstanding job of leading us this year," noted Drenth. "He has consistently been in the run and has helped this group to keep fighting and battling back."
Freshman Alex Wilson was the fourth Spartan to cross, as he was 41st overall with a time of 24:42. Isaiah VanDoorne wrapped the scoring for the Green and White, placing 57th overall with a 25:16 mark.
"Isaiah did a nice job for us, especially having not been able to practice for the past six weeks due to an injury," Drenth said. "He made it worst at Wisconsin, but has battled back to where he is today."
Freshman Ben Carruthers and junior Brian Hankins rounded out MSU's top seven finishers. Carruthers clocked in at 25:33 for 65th overall, while Hankins placed 75th with a time of 26:26.
Junior Shaka Dukes also joined the Spartans at the Big Ten Championships, placing 90th with a 26:29 mark.
As a team, MSU placed eighth overall with a score of 191. Claiming its 13th-straight conference crown was Wisconsin with 17 points. Indiana followed in second place with 60 points, while Michigan and Minnesota tied for third with 104 points.
"They guys are a pretty banged-up-group, and the fact that they were able to battle the way they did is a great thing to see," said Drenth. "I really felt like the group has made some good progress today.
"I was really pleased with our competitive effort. No one is pleased with where we placed, but our competitive effort and the way we chose to make decisions is a sign of a program heading in the right direction. It is really important that running well and competing tough becomes a part of our culture here at Michigan State."
The Badgers were led by individual champion Mohammed Ahmed, who set a Big Ten Championships 8K record with a time of 23:18
After a weekend off, the Spartans return to action on Saturday, Nov. 12, when they travel to Toledo, Ohio for the 2011 NCAA Great Lakes Regional Championships hosted by Toledo University. Last year, the MSU women placed first overall to automatically qualify for the NCAA Championships for the 10th-straight time. MacLeod paced the women's squad with her first-place finish with a time of 20:42.7 to earn USTFCCCA Great Lakes Region Athlete of the Year, as well as All-Region honors, for the second consecutive year. For the men, the team finished fifth overall with a score of 148. Patrick Grosskopf was the top male runner, placing 13th with a time of 30:39.1 en route to earning a 2010 NCAA Championships appearance bid.