Cross Country Makes Statement at Wisconsin Adidas Invitational

The Michigan State cross country team traveled to the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational this weekend to face 26 nationally ranked teams. Pegged as one of the most premier races during the regular season, the invite was the biggest test the Spartans have had this year.

The MSU women entered the race with the highest ranking – a No. 2 coaches ranking and No. 1 by FloTrack – and left with an even better reason for why they are at the top and deserve to stay there.

The women ran to a first place finish with a score of 87 points, winning by more than 100 points to second place Arkansas with 191 points. According to USTFCCA, no team in the history of the invite has even gotten close to MSU’s 87 point finish.

The race included five teams from the top 10, including: Arkansas (5), Stanford (6), Iowa State (8), Florida State (9) and Virginia (10).

For the women’s 6K, the Spartans put three runners in the top 15, Rachele Schulist (19:39) was second, Leah O’Connor (19:56) in ninth and Lindsay Clark (20:12) was 14th. MSU was the only team to have more than two runners in the 20, let alone the top 15.

The rest of MSU’s scorers came in the top 50, another thing that no other team accomplished. Julie Otwell (20:29) finished 30th and Sara Kroll (20:33) was right behind at 32nd. Other finishers were Katie Landwehr (20:40) in 41st and Alexis Wiersma (21:09) in 93rd.

The women’s impressive win did not happen without a well-planned strategy. Early in the race the Spartans trailed Arkansas, but clinched the win by making moves later in the race.

“We always want them to run their first 4K in a way that allows their last 2K to be their best,” assistant coach Lisa Senakiewich said. “It is important to start strong, but we definitely want them to run strongest in the end”

Another key to their success? Running happy. It is a simple concept but sometimes hard to accomplish.

“I think we did a good job of getting back to who we are and having fun again,” Senakiewich said. “We just went back out there and raced for each other, for an idea, not for being in a certain place”

She said that more national focus on the team can create a certain level of personal expectation and can sometimes turn into a burden for the runners, but the athletes and coaches have been refocusing on what is most important to them, which is being a team.

The men’s team had a breakout day, placing 15th with 399 points, the highest the team has ever finished at the invite. Similar to the women, the men placed one seat before Arkansas.

The 8K race included top-10 ranked Northern Arizona (3), Portland (5), Syracuse (6), Stanford (7), UCLA (9) and Wisconsin (9). In an upset win, Syracuse took first place with 85 points.

The men were led by Caleb Rhynard (24:06) who finished 18th. The rest of the top five was Alex Wilson (24:23) who finished 56th, Sharod Hardt (24:37) in 96th, Ben Miller (24:41) in 106th and Ben Carruthers (24:48) finished 121st. Nick Soter (24:55) and Max Benoit (25:19) also ran for the Spartans.

“We know there is more in them, but just them racing so hard and succeeding shows them what [a race] can and can’t be,” Senakiewich said. “Going into this race we knew that if they ran like they have been in their workouts they would be successful.”

Next week, the team will be sending a few runners to the Eastern Michigan Fall Classic but the top seven runners will take the week off from competing to prepare for the Big Ten Championship on Nov. 2.

Alexa McCarthy is the host of Last Leg for Impact Sports.

Photo: MSU Athletics