The Michigan State cross country team travels to Minneapolis this Saturday, Sept. 27 for the 29th annual Roy Griak Invitational hosted by the University of Minnesota.
As a whole, MSU cross country is in a unique position, with the women out to defend themselves and the men looking to prove that rankings do not mean everything.
This will be the Spartans’ most challenging competition so far this season. In the women’s 6K Gold Race there will be 37 teams total with seven teams ranked top 30 in the USTFCCCA cross country national coaches poll; Michigan State (3), Iowa State (9), Butler (11), Boise State (20), Vanderbilt (22), Minnesota (28) and North Carolina (30).
There will be three national champions running: MSU’s Leah O’Connor, the 2014 3,000-meter steeplechase winner, Boise State’s Leah Bates, the 2014 10K champion and Shelby Houlihan, the 2014 1,500-meter champion.
It is a stacked race and the MSU women are hoping to defend their No. 3 ranking for the first time against strong competition. Assistant coach Lisa Senakiewich said that while the high ranking is exciting, it does not mean a whole lot yet.
“It’s only a number and [the women] are smart enough to realize that it doesn’t really mean anything because we haven’t really raced yet and haven’t gotten to see where we really are,” Senakiewich said. “We have no idea how good the teams [at the meet] really are because rankings are only rankings.”
The men’s 8K Gold Race will have 31 teams competing, with four top 30 teams in attendance: North Carolina (19) Texas (24), Iowa State (27) and Colorado State (29). The MSU men’s team is ranked No. 5 in the Great Lakes Region. They enter the meet ready to prove themselves as a more competitive team than the rankings attest.
“They’ve always wanted more, but collectively they are understanding that you can’t just want it; you have to put in the work, and live the lifestyle on a daily basis,” Senakiewich said. “From the team perspective, we haven’t seen the guys perform like this in a long time.”
The team is coming off a bye week after strong showings in Oregon Sept. 5 and at the Spartan Invite on Sept. 12.
The meet will take place at Bolstad Golf Course in Minneapolis. The men’s 8K race will be at 1:20 p.m. and the women’s 6K race will start at approximately 2:10 p.m.
Alexa McCarthy is the host of Last Leg for Impact Sports.
Photo: Michigan State University Cross Country