Sept. 30, 2013
University of Michigan's men's cross country head coach Alex Gibby talks about the varsity team's season debut at the Cowboy Jamboree on Saturday (Sept. 28), the development of individual runners, and the outlook for the next three weeks of the regular season.
On the season debut for the varsity squad at the Cowboy Jamboree ... "We were really focused on the basics -- the idea of running hard, running competitively, staying focused and getting a mid-season checkpoint on fitness levels, both from a physical and mental prospective. That was the goal and I think we identified it fairly well. Walking away from it, we were definitely a little flat in terms of responsiveness out there. I don't think that was due to the weather delay, I think that was more a product of it being out first time out competing. Our volumes are still up, and we haven't done any sort of race-pace intensity from an event-specific standpoint to prepare them for 8,000- or 10,000-meters yet. We weren't sloppy, but we were just not sharp."
On the 22-second split between the five scorers ... "In training, our group has been a very, tight and cohesive unit and that's been a very positive development. In the past we've sort of been strung out in small ones and twos, and we really haven't had that group training effect. That's certainly happening right now in practice, so it didn't shock me that we ran with a tight split 1-5 or 1-7 over even 1-9. It is potentially a positive development; we just have to move the group up about 5-10 second up front and maybe 10-15 seconds in the back -- and then we're going to be pretty good. And that will come with time. But a real positive without our team, with the personnel that we have, is our depth."
On Mason Ferlic coming back from injuries last season for a strong season debut ... "With Mason, we started to see the growth last year. He's always been an aggressive athlete. He's certainly has some ability, but unfortunately last fall was interrupted by his foot issue. Outdoor track season was a little more indicative of his talent and his ability as a competitor. We've been patient with him -- we're aiming more toward November with the arrival of his true fitness levels. But, I was pleased with him at Oklahoma State. He's an aggressive individual. We have a young group and we can tend to be a little patient at times, so that's nice to have him be assertive and aggressive. That's certainly something we want to supplement."
On having Mason Ferlic and August Pappas back healthy this season ... "With Mason and August, this is now their fifth training cycle with us. We managed to pick out their idiosyncrasies, both from a physical standpoint, as well as from a lifestyle standpoint, and identity their weaknesses. We're going to be able to be more consistent. For August, it's the first consistent summer he's had. It's the first time he's gotten through the month of August without a major interruption of a week or two. He's certainly in control of what's he's doing and I thought he ran very effectively on Saturday. He was running a lot better at four and a half than he was at five, so that's the next aspect of his development -- he's identified the first 90-95 percent of the race well and now we have to get to the point where he's a little more of a killer over the last 5-10 percent and protect all those spots he's earned."
On having five freshmen in the lineup, including four in their collegiate debut ... "We're young because of the fact that we redshirted most of our guys when they initially came in; we really only have two true seniors in the whole block. Our youth in the short term, if we're effective, is a positive; if we're not effective, it's a negative because there's a learning curve associated with youth typically. However, the fact that we're littered with younger athletes is probably a product of how we're recruiting -- the type of kids we're identifying from a talent prospective, as well as the forceful aspect of their personalities. This is the start of my fourth year here. My first recruiting class, that are juniors now, was put together sort of last minute because we were two months behind by the time we started recruiting. Whereas, our freshman and sophomore classes are a little bit more indicative of what Michigan can do when we have six to 12 months to prepare for a recruiting cycle."
On the improvements he'd like to see in the next few weeks ... "There is limited time for major adjustments at this point, which is why I was pleased with Oklahoma State. We're not at the point now where we have to revisit any sort of fundamental assumptions of fitness or teach the basics of racing -- that's being identified. We're looking at the higher order stuff right now in terms of what we're doing competitively over the last 20 or 40 percent of the race. Part of that is preparation from a physical standpoint, which will start to emerge in the next two or three weeks as we move into our event-specific work. Right now, we're pleased with where we are. The concern now, outside of the squad that we'll run at Notre Dame, is that we get back into a routine and in the patters of our training that we've identified successfully over the previous six weeks. We'll start to tweak things here in the next 14-20 days, but for the most part, we're still continuing to build toward the championship portion of our season. With such a young group, we want to make sure we stay level mentally, as well as emotionally. It's too early to start thinking about things, but it's not too early to start preparing for things, so you ride that line. With the Notre Dame crew, on paper it might be a little bit more of a 'B' squad, but I think there are very talented guys in there who have the opportunity to contribute to our varsity at the end of the year. We'll see on a flatter course against excellent competition and see what they can do. Compared to Oklahoma State, we're going to look to be a little bit more aggressive in how we set up the race and how we follow through with some of the middle stages. Our hope with a younger group is that we can go out and beat some respectable programs, even with most of our varsity potentially sidelined."
On Tony Smoragiewicz transitioning back to running after the World Triathlon Championships ... "Any time you're competing at the highest level, in any discipline, that's to be respected. I was excited and got up very early to watch the live feed of Tony's race, and I know a lot of his teammates did as well. He's had a hard go of it because he really has his feet in two different worlds -- he's trying to compete at a world-class level in the triathlon in the summers and develop in to a national class distance runner through the other nine months of the year. It's a tough balancing act, but I think it's one he's handled with considerable maturity. We definitely respect and are excited by his potential in both aspects, which in a tight team it's important that we respect what each person is doing. Right now we're getting him back into running specific activities. This will be the longest block he's ever had to prepare. Last year world juniors was eight days before Big Tens and he still ended up a step or two away from second team All-Big Ten. That was a rough season for him -- adjusting to college, adjusting to college training and a lot of variables. Now we have a much straighter shot and ideally it's a much more efficient result at the end. We've got a ways to go, and in some aspects triathlon puts him a tiny bit behind, but in others he's a little bit fresher as he comes into the championship portion of the season. With his talent and his racing ability, he's going to be an asset going forward."
Contact: Whitney Dixon (734) 763-4423