Nate Perry, CMUChippewas.com
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Central Michigan cross country took another step toward late-season success Saturday at the adidas Pre-National Invitational, hosted by the University of Louisville.
The men's 42-team seeded race featured elite competition, as evidenced by the Chippewas' 37th-place finish. However, just as in the Greater Louisville Classic two weeks ago, nearly every Chippewa runner posted an 8K personal best.
Logan Kleam led the Chippewas, as he has all season, placing 108th out of 292 runners with a time of 24 minutes, 33.5 seconds. That mark eclipsed his previous best by approximately 5 seconds.
"Logan is just competitive as heck," CMU men's coach Matt Kaczor said. "It wasn't as clean of a race as he ran the first time (at Louisville), and he still PR'd. Today was just proof of what kind of a grinder he is out there and what kind of person he is to just keep fighting."
CMU's Luke Anderson (162nd) and Mark Beckmann (165th) broke the 25-minute barrier for the first time in their careers, coming in at 24:58.5 and 24:59.2, respectively.
"To finally get a few more guys in that under-25 (minute) club, that's a big help to us," Kaczor said. "Now that they've done it once, I think they're going to get even better and drop even more time. Plus, they're super young so they'll get a bunch more opportunities as well. Once, you understand what it takes to break 25 minutes - you adjust - and it gets easier as you go."
Conor Naughton (198th, 25:15.0) was the last Chippewa to post a personal best, shaving five and a half seconds of his old time. Kaczor said he was impressed by Naughton's performance, especially considering he was separated from running mates Anderson and Beckmann as the result of another runner falling down early in the race.
Rory Linkletter of BYU, the nation's No. 2-ranked team, won the men's race with a time of 23:08.4. BYU also dominated the team portion of the event, winning with 41 points. Colorado was second with 118.
Elinor Purrier of New Hampshire won the women's 6K race in 19:28.5. The race comprised 297 runners. Oregon was first with 63 points.
Taylor Aguillon recorded the best finish (87th) among CMU runners. She finished in 21:03.8. Her time was the third-best 6K time in program history, an incredible accomplishment for someone in her first year of collegiate varsity racing.
It was undoubtedly an encouraging bounce-back effort for Aguillon, who had some difficulty adjusting to the enormity of the Greater Louisville Classic two weeks ago.
"I think that Greater Louisville race had everything to do with how well she did today," CMU women's coach Jenny Swieton said. "She came back to campus and worked her tail off to make sure she was better this time around. Needless to say, it paid off."
CMU's Megan O'Neil came in 117th in 21:20.8, which was less than a second off her personal 6K best.
The third senior in the women's team's leadership core, Hannah Davis, was unable to finish the race because of respiratory issues.
Aguillon, O'Neil and Davis have led the Chippewas all year and continue to improve. As one might expect, Swieton said, the affect their leadership has had on the younger Chippewa women cannot be overstated.
"The younger girls see what they do and, no doubt, they strive to be there one day," Swieton said. "(The young runners) look at them and realize it's possible through hard work. They lead by example so well, too. Even after Taylor's off-race at the Greater Louisville, she didn't get down on herself, didn't make excuses. She just picked herself up, worked hard in practice, and came out here today and had a huge race."
All in all, the Chippewas are headed in the right direction leading up to the MAC Championships on Oct. 28. The next two weeks of preparation are the most crucial of the season to this point, as CMU looks to claim a Mid-American Conference title for either gender for the first time since 2004.
"Basically, its just reiterating the closeness of the group and stressing that we must stay close to be successful," Kaczor said. "If we keep taking that to heart, closing our gaps, that's going to ring true on (Oct.) 28th" at the MAC Championships.
"We're still hungry, and our group knows what the expectations are. I think that's what makes it so much fun to work with them and exciting to see what they can accomplish."