Teams place in Top 3 at Midwest Collegiate Open

Marquette men’s cross country team finished the race Saturday without junior Nick Szczech, and the women were able to place five runners in the top 13. Neither took home the top honors at the Midwest Collegiate Open in Kenosha, Wis.

The men’s team finished second to Louisville, and the women finished third behind Louisville and No. 4 West Virginia, which tied for first.

Junior Olivia Johnson was the top finisher for the women — finishing fifth overall. She ran the 3.1-mile race in 18:02. Senior Jayne Grebinski finished eighth with a time of 18:08. Senior Anna Webber and junior Kristin Pelzel finished 10th and 11th, respectively.

Finishing strong as a pack was something Johnson expected going into the race. She also expected to finish close to Grebinski and Webber because all three have similar talents.

“It depends on the day as to who is going to take the top spot between us three,” Johnson said. “It comes down to a matter of seconds and who has that extra gear at the end.”

Coach Mike Nelson also praised the team’s ability to run as a pack but added the need for a strong top runner.

“You’re going to win a lot of meets putting five girls within 24 seconds of each other,” Nelson said.  “But we need to get our front runner to finish further up in future races.”

Nelson was very pleased with Johnson’s performance and praised her ability to run consistently timed miles. He said the rest of the team needs to follow suit if they hope to do as well in future races.

“The women need to work on running their last mile in the same amount of time as the last mile,” Nelson said.

On the men’s side, sophomore Blake Johnson led the way with a time of 25:32 in the 5-mile race — good enough for sixth place. Freshman Connor Callahan finished two seconds behind Johnson and finished in eighth place.

Szczech, the team’s top finisher from the last meet, dropped out of the race after 4.5 miles due to problems with the heat. With one mile to go, he was 12 seconds up on Johnson. Nelson said the team still would have finished second if Szczech finished the race.

Before Szczech’s mid-race injury and the race itself, Blake Johnson said the second place finish to Louisville was expected. He said the team hasn’t reached its peak yet but will stride towards it as everyone gets into better physical shape.

“Connor Callahan has been behind me both races so hopefully I can continue to drag him around with me,” Blake Johnson said. “If we can get Brice [Cleland] to where he was last year, in terms of shape, and Nick [Szczech] to finish where he can then we’ll be vastly improved.”

Although the men failed to take home the team prize, the team’s top five runners did manage to finish within one minute of each other, which was something that Nelson had hoped for going into the race.