Nate Perry, CMUChippewas.com
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- On a day where the high temperatures made their presence known to everyone at Forest Akers East Golf Course at Michigan State University, two Chippewa women built on their own hot starts to the 2017 cross country season.
Two weeks after Central Michigan's Taylor Aguillon and Megan O'Neil finished second and third, respectively, at the season-opening Jeff Drenth Memorial, the pair finished in succession again on Friday with O'Neil (sixth) edging out Aguillon (seventh) this time around in the Spartan Invitational.
No team scores were kept.
O'Neil finished the 6K in 21 minutes, 52.7 seconds, about five seconds ahead of Aguillon (21:57.5), and 33 seconds off the winner, Rachel Walny of Bowling Green.
"I think up front, with Taylor, Megan and Hannah (Davis), they were phenomenal," CMU women's coach Jenny Swieton said. "They went out hard and they hung on, and they pushed really hard and ran really well today, which is good."
Aguillon's time moved her into 19th place on the all-time Central Michigan list for women's 6K races. Couple that with her performance at the Drenth that won her MAC Women's Runner of the Week, and she is starting to fit the definition of instant-impact athlete.
"She's just a true gamer," said Swieton of Aguillon. "She works hard in practice and she pushes it in practice, but she's a totally different person when the gun goes off, and it's really cool to watch."
Davis (22:32.2) placed 23rd, which helped make up a solid top three for the Chippewas. Swieton said that developing the rest of her lineup is a work in progress at this stage of the season.
"The next group is moving up, they just need to get a little more confident," she said. "I think we're not where we need to be on the confidence end of things, but I know that all of them are capable of running really, really well, and they just need to believe it as much as I do."
In the men's 8K, another newcomer, Logan Kleam, took the top spot for the Chippewas in his collegiate debut, finishing 15th in 25:38.3.
Sophomores Bransen Stimpfel (20th) and Mark Beckmann (22nd) weren't far behind, while Conor Naughton (31st) and Luke Anderson (35th) rounded out the top five for CMU.
Karim Achengli of Iowa Central Junior College won the men's race in 24:31.7.
"I thought our top five ran really well today," CMU men's coach Matt Kaczor said. "They listened to the game plan really well. We started out really conservative with the heat, and then we just started picking people off as the race went on. I think we were somewhere around a 30-second gap between our one (runner) and our five and we haven't had that in a while. Then, to think that it's all freshman and sophomores, it's very encouraging."
However, Kaczor was very clear in reiterating that while it's nice to start strong and see improvement, his young team is still very much in the experimental phase.
"The next races we're going to start testing some more ideas because until the 28th of October (MAC Championships) hits, it's just all games where we're just going to play around with different strategies, different ideas, so that we're ready for the MAC meet," he said.
Kaczor also touched on the continued hunger that his team has shown throughout the young season and how they have bought in to achieving team success.
"They look for each other, they're working with each other, and they're not letting each other break apart early in the race so that way we can get a good team score," he said.
"I'm tired of the individual stuff. We had that for a few years, where we had to get excited about how the individuals would do. Now we've got a group that I think can really push us up. That taste that I have in my mouth from last year's MAC still burns and I'm ready to replace that this year."
Central Michigan will be off this week before taking their first of two trips to the University of Louisville for the Greater Louisville Classic on Sept. 30. They return to Lousiville for the Pre-National Invitational on Oct. 14.