Cross country is not a sport where each play can be planned out. The coach gets one shot to discuss the race plan, and from there it is all up to the athletes who rely on each other more than anything.
After a fast and intense race last week in Oregon, the Michigan State cross country team went in with a much different plan for the Spartan Invite on Friday, Sept. 12.
“We wanted our front women and men to kind of hold back,” MSU head coach Walt Drenth said. “We need to nurture some people in the middle of a group. Our four-seven people need to be better than they were last week.”
In the women’s race, Leah O’Connor (21:03) and Rachele Schulist (21:05), who would be expected to lead from the beginning, stayed with the front pack until the two-mile mark. Their plan of taking it slow in the beginning seemed to work because from there the girls took a 10-foot lead all the way to the finish.
O’Connor and Schulist finished in first and second respectfully.
“At the two mile (mark) we were supposed to feel relaxed and then from there keep in our element and get faster,” O’Connor said. “I went off with Rachele and she was great at staying engaged when I was struggling to stay engaged and was an awesome teammate today, so I was lucky to have her and that made today awesome.”
Schulist and O’Connor led in a group of Spartan runners and the Spartans dominated the top 10. Lindsay Clark came in third (21:19), Sara Kroll was fourth (21:24), in seventh Alexis Wiersma (21:40), Julia Otwell in ninth (21:41) and Katie Landwehr in tenth (21:49).
“Today we were really working on just being teammates, first and foremost,” O’Connor said. “It wasn’t about who won and who lost, just making sure we made each other feel really strong throughout the whole race.”
The men’s race was similar. The Spartans ran as a pack early on, while not giving an early lead. At the two-mile the front pack dissolved to just three runners with Caleb Rhynard (24:40) trailing in third place until the finish.
“It’s hard for the top kids to stay back,” Drenth said. “I think if I had let Caleb (Rhynard) go right from the start he would have had a chance to run away with it. We got to think about the group as a whole.”
While Rhynard may not have had his best race, success came with the middle runners on the team, with a majority of the athletes who ran last week in Oregon improving on their times.
Ben Carruthers (24:42) was sixth, Nick Soter (24:46) in ninth, Ben Miller (24:54) in 11th, Sharod Hardt (24:55) in 12th, Nick Moon (25:27) in 31st, Alex Whitmer (25:28) in 33th, Andrew Cusmano (25:29) in 34th and Ryan Beyea (25:30) in 35th.
Full Race Results
Alexa McCarthy is the host of Last Leg for Impact Sports.
Photo: Michigan State University Cross Country