Nov. 14, 2013
EAST LANSING, Mich. - The Michigan State cross country teams return to Madison, Wis., on Friday, Nov. 15 for the 2013 NCAA Great Lakes Regional Championships. The meet will be held at the Thomas Zimmer Championship Course with the men’s 10,000-meter race set to begin at 1 p.m. ET, with the women’s 6,000-meter race to follow at 2:15 p.m. The top-two schools in each race will receive an automatic bid to next week’s NCAA Championships.
“This meet is the only way to get to nationals,” said director of cross country/track & field Walt Drenth. “It’s the second of three championship events. If we run well here, we get to run at the NCAA Championship and that’s our objective. A lot happens tomorrow, not only here, but nationally that will help determine whether they make the NCAA Championships. But it starts on this course with us and we have to be at our best. We’re ready to be our best. They seem healthy. The training room has done a great job with us, but the kids have done a great job of keeping themselves well.”
NCAA Regionals History - Women
The women have claimed five regional titles in program history. Most recently, the women claimed the crown in 2010 after back-to-back championships in 2006 and 2007. In 2001 and 2010, after winning the Big Ten Championships, the Spartans also ran to a first-place finish at the regional. Michigan State claimed its first ever win in 1981, the first year the race was sanctioned by the NCAA.
“We’re probably a little clearer on where we are at as a group,” said Drenth. “I think they’ve done a pretty good job of putting the pressure behind them. They seem a lot more relaxed. I think we’re practicing really well. We seem to be maintaining our health; that’s vital. There is a number of really good teams in this region. I wouldn’t be surprised if six or seven teams ultimately make it out of this region based on the way the region has performed against national competition. We’re not taking anything for granted, that’s for sure. We’re going to go in there and race as well as we can.”
Last year, Sara Kroll led the Spartans with a personal-best time of 20:12, good for third-place overall. Leah O’Connor finished 12th overall with a time of 20:41 to lead MSU to a second-place team finish. As a result of the team's success, Michigan State earned an automatic bid to its 14th-consecutive NCAA appearance, the longest-active streak in the Big Ten.
NCAA Regionals History - Men
The men enter the weekend looking for the first regional win in program history. Last year, the men placed five in the top-30 to earn a fourth-place team finish at the regional meet led by Alex Wilson (31:30, 17th place) and Caleb Rhynard (31:40, 21st). Overall, MSU has placed second once as well as third- and fourth-place four times each.
“We’ve got to be a little more engaged, particularly in the last half of the race,” Drenth said. “I would expect Caleb will have a pretty good shot to make it as an individual. If we back it up and our juniors run the way they’re practicing and we have some support from a couple of the younger guys, then I think we’ll have a decent chance to advance. We’ve also had some success on this course. Last year, we ran really well. 10,000-meters suits us. I’m excited to see where our upper-class leadership takes us tomorrow. Our fortune will rise and fall with what they do and how they approach this. If they are mature, excited and locked in, we’ll be pretty good.”
Michigan State Director of Cross Country/Track & Field Walt Drenth was unanimously voted Big Ten Women’s Coach of the Year, as announced by the conference office on Nov. 6. It marked the third conference coach of the year recognition for Drenth, as he also received the honor in 2010 and 2011. Also recognized by the conference were MSU’s Sportsmanship Award honorees, Caleb Rhynard and Megan Rodgers.
Where We Rank
In the latest U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) weekly poll released on Nov. 5, the women remain at sixth after winning the Big Ten Championship. Regionally, the women continue to sit at the top of the Great Lakes Region standings for the sixth-straight week. The women hold the best national ranking in the Big Ten Conference. This marks the highest ranking for the women since October of 2006, when MSU was ranked No. 4 nationally.
On the men's side, MSU is ranked seventh in the USTFCCCA Great Lakes regional rankings.
Last Time Out
The MSU women's team claimed its third Big Ten Championship title in four years on Nov. 3 at Purdue University. Led by Leah O'Connor's runner-up finish, the Spartans placed three in the top-10 to pick up 43 points and beat out defending champions Michigan. Caleb Rhynard placed fourth overall to lead the men to a seventh-place finish with 170 points.
O'Connor clocked a 20:56.90 to cross first for the Spartans and earn First Team All-Big Ten honors. Finishing fifth overall, Katie Landwehr was also named to the First Team All-Big Ten as she posted a time of 21:04.4. Lindsey Clark crossed the finish line in 21:12.30 to finish ninth overall and earn Second Team All-Big Ten honors.
Rounding out the Spartan scorers was Rachele Schulist, who in her first conference championship race finished 12th with a time of 21:24.60 to also be named to the Second Team All-Big Ten, followed by Megan Rodgers recording a time of 21:27.20 for a 15th-place finish.
Caleb Rhynard led the men's side with a fourth-place overall finish, posting a time of 24:21.00 to earn First Team All-Big Ten honors. It is the highest individual finish by a Spartan since Ryan Taylor finished second overall in 1998.
With a second-place overall finish at the Michigan Intercollegiate Championships, redshirt sophomore Andrew Cusmano was named Big Ten Athlete of the Week on Oct. 15. He led the Spartans to a second-place team finish with his time of 25:56.77, a 5:13.17 one-mile pace, and finished more than 12 seconds ahead of the next-fastest runner in the field of 98 competitors.
Crossing the finish line first for the MSU women at the Roy Griak Invitational, redshirt freshman Rachele Schulist was named Big Ten Cross Country Co-Athlete of the Week on Oct. 1. Her ninth-place time of 21:07 in the women's 6,000-meter race helped lead her team to a runner-up team finish among a field of 28 teams, 10 of which were ranked in the top-30 of the USTFCCCA poll.
Redshirt junior Leah O'Connor and redshirt sophomore Caleb Rhynard of the Michigan State cross country team swept the Big Ten Cross Country Athlete of the Week honors on Sept. 17. Both individuals earned their first weekly honors after finishing tops for the Spartans with an outstanding first race of the season when MSU hosted the Auto-Owners Insurance Spartan Invitational.
The top two teams from the regional championship will automatically qualify for the NCAA Championships held on Nov. 23 in Terre Haute, Ind. There are also 13 at-large bids up for grabs. Of the teams not selected, the top-four individual finishers at each regional will automatically be selected (but must have finished within the top 25 of the region). Two additional athletes can be selected from the national pool as at-large individuals.