Nov. 2, 2012
By Whitney Dixon
For the University of Michigan women's cross country team, the legendary Bo Schembechler saying, "Those who stay will be champions," was affirmed on Sunday (Oct. 28) at the Big Ten Championships as the Wolverines emerged victorious.
Following a stretch of five consecutive Big Ten titles from 2002-06, five conference championships had gone by without the Wolverines appearing on the podium. With that in mind, it had been the primary goal for this year's team, especially its seniors, to get Michigan back to the top.
"Mike (McGuire) has reiterated the last three years that the Big Ten title can be ours," said senior Jillian Smith. "This year, starting at camp, that was our goal and we knew it was attainable."
And last Sunday at Michigan State's Forest Akers Golf Course, the Wolverines were able to cross that conference title off their 'to do' list as they hoisted the Big Ten banner in front of a sea of Maize and Blue fans.
"The seniors can appreciate it so much more," said Addison. "It shows that those who stick with it will eventually get what they deserve. We definitely appreciate it more after getting second two years in a row -- that was hard."
Despite not bringing home the trophy during that stretch from 2007-11, Michigan maintained its strong presence in the Big Ten, never finishing lower than fifth place, including runner-up finishes in 2010 and 2011. In fact, in head coach Mike McGuire's 21 years at the helm of the program, Michigan has finished first or second in the conference in 17 of 21 seasons.
"I think this title shows a lot about Mike (McGuire) as a coach too," said Addison. "Even when we were down a little bit in the Big Ten, he told us from the very beginning that we could get back on top."
Hilton and Smith both credit the team's determination and strong bond for leading them back to the top of the conference.
"The work ethic that the Michigan cross country team has is just part of the program and I know that's what got us through to this point," said Hilton.
"It feels great," Smith stated about winning the Big Ten crown. "It's taken four years for us to really trust in our abilities and our training. It puts in prospective the amount of miles and the hard work that we've put in. Our determination and the bonds we've created have allowed us to be competitive at the highest level, which is where Michigan Athletics should always be."
This year's Big Ten meet, however, was not the first taste of success for the three senior captains. As juniors in 2011, the trio helped lead the Wolverines to the program's first NCAA Great Lakes Regional title since 2008 (when they were each seniors in high school).
But according to this year's captains, a Big Ten title is not something to be satisfied with. After celebrating the milestone on Sunday, the Wolverines went right back to work on Monday.
"There is a sign in the locker room that says 'if you want to be number one, you have to train like you're number two,'" said Hilton. "We can't let the championship cloud our vision. Our team has always done really well at regionals and I hope that we can continue that."
There are still two important meets remaining on the schedule that the team is focused on. On Friday, Nov. 9, Michigan will travel to the University of Wisconsin for the NCAA Great Lakes Regional. Michigan's goal for the regional meet is twofold -- defend its 2011 regional title and secure one of two automatic qualifying spots at the NCAA Championships.
"Mike (McGuire) has said that we still haven't had our best race, yet we still did a really good job at Big Tens," mentioned Addison. "If we put together what we're capable of at regionals and nationals, I think we can surprise people."
With just two meets remaining in their collegiate careers, the seniors are focused on making the most of every day spent with their teammates and every opportunity to achieve further success.
But for the Wolverines, success can be defined by more than just team championships.
"Mike (McGuire) always says that it's not about the end, it's about the process," Hilton commented on how the team measures its success. "Our team is really big on the process -- making sure that we're doing things right and that we're all being good people. At Big Tens, he was happy with our team because we won, but also because we all tried our hardest and we went through the process the way it was supposed to be done. I think if we can finish with a good showing at regionals and nationals, Mike will be proud of us and we can all be proud of ourselves."
And as Michigan steps to the line for its final two championship meets of the season, it will be the three senior captains that others will look toward to lead the charge.
"If the seniors have a collective determination and 'last one, best one' mentality, I think it will carry through for everyone else," Smith added about the senior leadership. "This is really our time to shine."