For the second week in a row the NMU women’s cross country team ran through their opponents on the way to a first place finish.
In the first meet of the year the Wildcats dominated their Upper Peninsula rivals. On Saturday, Sept. 8 they took aim at a larger field of competition in the Midwest Collegiate Opener at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.
The ’Cats used their depth to beat out 16 other schools including two Division I opponents.
“They ran great against some tough competitors,” head coach Jenny Ryan said. “I think the team is finally learning how to work together and run as a group and I think that really paid off.”
The group mentality paid dividends as the Wildcats first five runners all finished in the top 13 to help pack the points in.
Each team scores their top five runners and NMU’s ability to keep it close paid off.
“It was kind of interesting because both of the two schools right behind us had their two top athletes in the top 10 and their number three, four and five were quite a ways back,” Ryan said. “That’s what made the difference for us, we had one through six all up there and when we can do that it definitely helps.”
For the second race in a row, it was junior Mandy Dye leading the way for the ’Cats completing the 5k course in 18 minutes and 57 seconds. She finished fifth overall.
Junior Mallory Celaya made her Wildcat cross country debut in style finishing second for the ’Cats and seventh overall with at time of 19:13.3.
Celaya said she hopes to build off her first race.
“I was blown away by the performance by my teammates and myself. There is always room for improvement and I aim to work on improving my time,” Celaya said.
Celaya was held out of the first race because of knee injury that gets irritated on hilly courses such at Michigan Tech’s.
Ryan said she is excited to see what Celaya can add to the team.
“She ran really well and I think she has more potential, she’ll just keep moving up to,” Ryan said.
At the Wisconsin-Parkside course the ’Cats worked together to battle a hilly first kilometer. Ryan said the team tackled the task in groups and that the terrain around Marquette helps to prepare them for the hills.
“They started off really smart, they sort of had two groups that worked together, ran together and ran a smart first kilometer,” Ryan said. “Being able to run around here and a lot of the trails that we do around here are hilly so I think that definitely prepares them.”
Rounding out the first group of finishers along with Dye and Celaya was freshman Mary Kate Cirelli in 10th place with a time of 19:15.6.
The next group of three to finish for NMU was senior Rita Woitas in 12th place (19:22.3), sophomore Olivia Howard in 13th place (19:27.5) and freshman Megan Edic finished 14th with a time of 19:31.9.
Celaya said the group work the ’Cats employed helped during the race.
“I cannot express how great it felt to run as a pack out there on the field,” Celaya said. “We all worked together to pull each other through the course. This will be a huge advantage against other teams.”
The ’Cats finished with 47 points, second place finisher Wisconsin-Parkside finished with 77 points and Division I University of Wisconsin-Green Bay finished third with 78 points.
“The team is really running well together, they’re bonding well and it’s really just a hardworking positive group,” Ryan said. “I think that’s what continues to carry them forward, they’re really excited about how it’s going and that positive energy is good for the team.”
The Wildcats dominate performance came without the help of last year’s top runner sophomore Larissa Halonen who was out with a strained hamstring.
Sophomore Katie Granquist, who finished fourth at Michigan Tech, was also out due to sickness.
“We have a lot of depth this year which really helps because when you do have somebody that has a problem and you can still do well it’s really exciting,” Ryan said.
The ’Cats have a week off of competition before they hit the road on Saturday, Sept. 22 to run in the Northwood Open in Midland, Mich.