Sept. 13, 2013
EAST LANSING, Mich. - The Michigan State cross country team, in conjunction with Playmakers, hosted the 24th-annual Auto-Owners Insurance Spartan Invitational on Friday at Forest Akers East Golf Course. The event, which hosted nearly 6,500 athletes ranging from college to middle school, began with the two collegiate races that were mostly dominated by green and white.
"I was pleased with the progress of both teams," said MSU director of cross country/track & field Walt Drenth. "Starting with the women, I thought they did a really nice job running as a pack and understanding the purpose of the run. I thought we saw some progress. Same thing with the guys; I thought we raced pretty well in the late stages of the race. Our top three guys are really starting to make some good progress. This was a good stepping stone."
Junior Leah O'Connor won her first collegiate race, pacing the field for the entire 6K, and finishing in a time of 20:54. O'Connor crossed 11 seconds ahead of a pack of five Spartans, who garnered the next five spots on the leaderboard.
"This is my first win, so this is pretty cool," said O'Connor. "Being at home, having our team and my family here to support us, I was all smiles on the course. I was an awesome race. I was really happy with it. I felt smooth and was able to run out. I just took off. I didn't know exactly what I was doing, but I knew what felt smooth and felt right. Right from the start, Coach Drenth told me `Do what feels natural', so I just stuck with that. I kept hearing that my teammates were in a pack behind me and that was encouraging. It felt really good."
"Leah is national class; she can just go to the front and take over the race," added Drenth. "It was important and we expected it, but it was nice to see her do it. The thing that is exciting is to see the girls behind her and know they are running well. I thought we competed well in the late stages of the race and that was one of our big objectives."
Running in their first collegiate races, redshirt freshmen Shelby Jackson (21:05) and Rachele Schulist (21:06) crossed side-by-side to take second and third. Just three seconds behind, sophomore Lindsey Clark was fourth in 21:09, while classmate Katie Landwehr was fifth in 21:16 and senior Megan Rodgers was sixth at 21:19.
On the men's side, sophomore Caleb Rhynard finished second overall, but was first among Division-I student-athletes, with his time of 24:10. Juniors Ben Carruthers (24:43) and Alex Wilson (24:49) also had top-10 showings on the day, placing fifth and seventh, respectively.
"This event keeps getting bigger and bigger," added Drenth. "We have such a wonderful group of people that helps us, starting at the top with Andy Marsh and his staff, along with Rebekah Smeltzer and Aaron Simoneau, and the rest of the people that are out here making this event what it is. It is a great way to show off the university and get more people involved in the sport. It has become quite an event."
The Spartans return to action on Sept. 28 for the Roy Griak Invitational in Minneapolis, Minn.