Toeing the Line #1: U-M to Hold Michigan Open to Kick Off 2012
Zach Ornelas

Aug. 29, 2012

Friday, Aug. 31 -- Michigan Open (Dexter, Mich), 3 p.m.

The University of Michigan men's cross country team will kick off its 2012 season on Friday (Aug. 31), hosting the annual Michigan Open at Hudson Mills Metropark. The men's 5,000-meter race is slated for a 3 p.m. start, following the women's race at 2:30 p.m.

Top Returning Times
8,000-Meter Run 10,000-Meter Run
Brendon Blacklaws 24:26.00 Brendon Blacklaws 30:50.50
Morsi Rayyan 24:32.00 Zach Ornelas 30:55.30
Zach Ornelas 24:35.00 Mark Beams 31:02.60
James Yau 25:10.00 Morsi Rayyan 31:08.10
Nathan Karr 25:18.00 Mason Ferlic 31:43.60


Familiar Faces -- The 2012 Wolverine roster features 21 returners from last season, including five from the varsity squad. U-M returns all except two of its scorers from last year's team, including junior Mark Beams (Vicksburg, Mich./Vicksburg), senior/junior Brendon Blacklaws (Wellington, New Zealand/Wellington College), sophomore Mason Ferlic (St. Paul, Minn./Mounds Park Academy), senior Zach Ornelas (Cedar Park, Texas/Vista Ridge) and junior Morsi Rayyan (Dewitt, Mich./St. Johns). Blacklaws was Michigan third-highest finisher at last year's regional meet, earning All-Great Lakes Region honors.

Introducing the Newcomers -- The Wolverines have added seven new faces to this year's roster, including six freshmen and one transfer. Senior Dan Lowry (Philadelphia, Pa./La Salle College) was an All-American a year ago for Brown University. Tony Smoragiewicz (Rapid City, S.D./Hamilton) highlights the group of freshmen expected to contribute. He was a two-time South Dakota state champion and won the bronze medal at the Worth Junior Triathlon Championships.

In the Rear View Mirror -- Last season, Mighigan constructed its most successful season since 2008, improving its finish at each postseason meet. The Wolverines jumped five spots at the Big Ten Championships, finishing in a tie for third and moved up four positions at the Great Lakes Regional to third place. The Maize and Blue capped the season with a trip to the NCAA Championships for the first time since 2008, finishing 20th overall.

Calling the Shots -- Head coach Alex Gibby enters the 2012 season in his third year at the helm of the men's cross country program. In 2011, Gibby guided Michigan to its best season in three years, which was highlighted by the team's first trip to the NCAA Championships since 2008. The Wolverines' 20th-place finish at the national meet came after taking third at the Great Lakes Regional and Big Ten Championships. Gibby wasted no time taking the program to the next level as the Wolverines made dirastic improvements from year one to year two. In his inaugural campaign in 2010, Gibby's squad finished eighth at the conference meet, seventh at regionals and sent one individual at the NCAA Championships.

Annual Results During the Gibby Era

YearBig TenRegionalNCAA

Preseason Preparations -- The squad reported to campus on Aug. 20 and departed on Aug. 22 for team camp in Glen Arbor, Mich. The Wolverines will spend nine days in Northern Michigan training and bonding as a team in preparation for the start of the 2012 season.

According to Gibby
On starting his third year at Michigan ... "The lines of communication are clearer and we start to move beyond the basics of preparing distances runners because the basics are routine now, they don't need to be explained -- it's what we do. With only adding four freshmen into the mix, we've got a ton of experience returning. That allows us to identify more complex ideas and themes in terms of building the team identity, as well as moving them further along as individuals -- be it race strategy or absorbing lessons of the past and being able to apply them at a greater rate. It now allows us to be more particular in what we're doing."

On the runners he expects to contribute to the team's success this year ... "The more obvious choices for our top group are our transfer Dan Lowry, who was an All-American last year at Brown, Morsi Rayyan, Zach Ornelas and Mark Beams. They were all on our varsity last year and got considerably better on the track in the spring. Two sophomores, August Pappas and Mason Ferlic, although August has not run in uniform yet, were two guys who demonstrated the ability to run at a regional level last year in track. Brendon Blacklaws has had a slow start to the summer, but he's a former All-Big Ten guy and was our second finisher last year at the NCAA Championships. You're obviously cautious when extrapolating high school performances into college performances, but on the surface George Kelly and Tony Smoragiewicz are two guys with high school pedigrees who could potentially set in right away and contribute. We are just so much deeper than we've been and while there are more obviously candidates, there are probably four or five more guys I could mention that are capable of impacting the varsity in a successful way this fall."

Michigan men's cross country is on Facebook. Connect with the program, alumni and fans by clicking the "Like" button at Also, be sure to follow the team on Twitter (@umichtrack) for up-to-the-minute news and information throughout the season and beyond.

The Wolverines enter the 2012 season ranked No. 19 in the NCAA Division I cross country preseason poll, released Tuesday (Aug. 28) by the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA). This year marks the first time Michigan has appeared in the national preseason poll since 2009 (No. 22). In 2011, U-M did not crack the top 30 until the third regular-season poll, where they were ranked No. 28. U-M also owns the third spot in this year's Great Lakes Region preseason poll.

Friday, Sept. 14 -- at Spartan Invitational (East Lansing, Mich.), 12:35 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 22 -- at Virginia/Paranorama Farms Invitational (Earlysville, Va.), 10 a.m.

Contact: Whitney Dixon (734) 763-4423