The Marquette men’s team surpassed its expectations and conquered a hill-ridden course en route to an eighth-place finish (out of 31) at the NCAA Great Lakes regional in Toledo, Ohio, its best finish since 2007.
The men, who entered the race ranked 12th in the region, followed the leadership of seniors Blake Johnson (31:09.7), Peter Bolgert (31:12.6) and junior Jack Senefeld (31:30.8), who placed 37th, 38th and 51st overall, respectively.
According to Senefeld, other teams came out running too hard with the extra excitement of a regional meet and he was proud that the Golden Eagles stayed within themselves.
“Going into the race we all had the mindset that we needed to continue what we were doing all year,” he said. “Everyone kept calm and cool going into the race, and it worked out. We made sure we did the things that we wanted to do and paced ourselves well.”
Coach Mike Nelson said the men’s team had isolated a few key teams that it wanted to beat, and achieved near perfection. Of the six teams it wanted to finish better than, Marquette bested four of them: Eastern Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue and Cincinnati. Butler and Central Michigan were the two that got away.
Nelson called it “the race within the race.”
“Mentally, the men had the transition from 8k to 10k and it’s definitely a tougher challenge,” he said. “But we wanted to focus on the men’s side on running a smart, relaxed race … the teams that do well in racing, often times, are not those who pick it up, but those who just do not slow down.”
Running focused and consistent was an even tougher challenge considering the conditions of the race. Although the weather was perfect, the uneven terrain at Ottawa Park Golf Course presented a challenge for both the men’s and women’s races.
Senior Carly Windt, who turned in a personal best of 22:11.9 for 79th place, believes that both teams did their best to compete. The women placed 17th in a field of 33 in a slightly more competitive field — according to Nelson.
“Some girls had their best races of the season, so we can’t blame it on the course,” Windt said. “But this was probably the hardest course we’ve had all year. It was hillier and that kind of plays a bit of a factor.”
This is the attitude Nelson has sought to instill in his runners — no excuses.
“The course was hillier than I expected to be,” he said. “Combine that with the turns, and what we had all envisioned coming into the race wasn’t what we got. But that could only throw you off if you were weak-minded … we train on all kinds of different surfaces and areas around Milwaukee … It’s all about competition.”
Considering these factors, Nelson was adamant that he believes that this weekend was the best performance for the women’s team, regardless of its finish.
He said this remains the challenge in cross-country: you can run your best race and still have no control over your opponents.
“Our goal was to finish in the top-15, but you cannot really control the other team,” Nelson said. “Even though we’re in a race with another team, all we can do is run our best race; and our women did that. We’re definitely on an upswing.”