Last year after competing in the NCAA Championships, the women’s cross country team took no time to reflect on what had happened, but rather look to what they needed to do to get to the next level.
“We all just pow-wowed in back of the bus and were like 'this is what want to do next year.'” sophomore Jenna Magness said.
The Spartans each year have some of the loftiest goals that any athletic program in the country has. Currently ranked sixth by USTFCCCA, Michigan State women’s cross country expects to qualify for the NCAA Championships each year. They don’t hope, they expect. After coming in first place last Friday at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional, the Spartans qualified for the NCAA Championships for the 19th straight season.
Led by senior Annie Fuller’s second-place finish, the Spartans were able to defeat the Michigan Wolverines and the Wisconsin Badgers yet again after taking them down in the Big Ten Championships meet.
However, Fuller doesn’t think that her or the team viewed the Wolverines as their rival when they took them down in back-to-back meets.
“Honestly, I don’t think we thought of it as taking down our rival. I think we thought of it as a goal that we had set and knew we were capable of.” said Fuller “We did it and it was super cool.”
The green and white have been led so far by their depth. In cross country, the scoring is based on the place of a team's first runner through fifth runner. The places taken by those runners are then added up for a final score. In the event of a tie, the sixth and seventh runners are then added to the final score to break the tie. In the Great Lakes Regional, depth was a key factor yet again.
“I think that it certainly gives you a level of confidence that it’s not just up to me.” Head Coach Walt Drenth said, “When you’re in a big group like that, it can be easy to just say 'somebody's got it today' and I think that one of the strengths of this group is everyone thinks it's their responsibility to make it go well.”
“Any one of us could be in any spot on our team.” Fuller said, "I think that’s something that’s been really encouraging and really motivating for all of us going into each race.”
However, Magness thinks that it is actually the team's chemistry that has led then to this point in the season.
“I think our team chemistry has been really amazing this year. We all just care about each other so much ... and I think that has contributed a lot to our success this year.”
As the Spartans prepare for their shot at a title, the runners are chomping at the bit for the gun to go off this Saturday.
“We still have another meet, we’re still hungry for more and I’m really excited to see what we can do.” Fuller said.
2014 was the last time the green and white was able to win a national championship and Coach Drenth sees some similar qualities between his current team and the team that won it five years ago.
“I think their sense of purpose was high for both of them.” said Drenth “The 2014 team was probably a little bit more accomplished before we got to the nationals.”
Coach Drenth was named Big Ten and Great Lakes Regional coach of the year, after leading this team to its 19th straight appearance in the NCAA championships and a conference and regional championship, further cementing his status as a coaching legend at MSU.
Also, while the men as a team did not qualify, junior Morgan Beadlescomb did qualify as he finished sixth in the men’s 10K race last Friday and will join the ladies in their trip down to Terre Haute, Indiana, to race individually in the men’s race.
The Spartans will take the course at 11:15 a.m. on Saturday. The course at Terre Haute is one of the most unique cross country courses in the country as it is designed specifically for cross country meets.
“I love Terre Haute." Beadlescomb said, “It’s a really fun course. It's pretty difficult, people underestimate it just because it’s hilly, but its gradual, so it wears people down slowly. Not a lot of people can strategize for that. It always catches some people by surprise.”
Some of Michigan State’s main competitors in the NCAA championships will include the Arkansas Razorbacks and the Stanford Cardinal. It will take a big day from the Spartans for them to come back to East Lansing with a trophy.
You can track live results of the NCAA Championships here as runners begin to cross each kilometer threshold.