MARQUETTE - For its only home meet of the year on Friday, the Northern Michigan University women's cross country team had a few goals in mind - to practice running at a faster pace for the approaching postseason, but to also put on a show for the home crowd at the NMU Golf Course.
Appropriately, with the sun and only a slight chil in the air, the Wildcats placed eight runners in the top 10 of the Upper Peninsula Championships, which included runners from Finlandia, Gogebic, Michigan Tech and Lake Superior State on the four-kilometer course.
"It was good to see us finish 1-2-3-4-5, that was exciting," NMU head coach Jenny Ryan said of the Wildcats' perfect score of 15 points. "It was fun to see them run hard and well in front of a home crowd."
Winning the race was NMU junior Mandy Dye, who finished the roughly 2 1/2-mile course in 14 minutes, 45 seconds. Immediately behind her was sophomore Larissa Halonen, who crossed the line in 14:50 for second place.
"The depth is unbelievable this year, every race it seems like somebody new has come in first, second, third, fourth or fifth place," Halonen said. "It's great at practice too, we're all in a nice big pack which makes it a lot easier. It's nice to have someone right next to you with the same uniform on."
Coming in after Halonen and rounding out the top five in the race were freshman Megan Edic in 14:52, freshman Mary Kate Cirelli (14:53), and junior Mallory Celaya (14:53).
"The top 10 have all been switching places a lot, but the top three have been the same," Ryan said. "Mallory doesn't quite have the speed, whereas Mandy's got it.
"Mallory will probably do a little bit better in the 6K, but if you put them on the track and tell them to go as fast as they can for 400 meters, Mandy will beat Mallory. But that's just the way it goes."
Friday's shortened course, which was two kilometers less than the typical 6K, was decided upon for the sake of keeping the athletes in good shape for next weekend's conference championship in downstate Midland. It also proved to be good practice at a quicker pace.
"We made this a little bit shorter so they'd be used to going a little bit faster," Ryan said. "This was a 4K, which really wasn't a huge difference, but they'll be able to feel this pace and they'll be able to continue that in the 6K because it's so close."
The shorter distance required an unfamiliar strategy out of most runners, many of who have never even done a 4K race.
"It felt good but I really had no idea what I was doing," Dye said. "That was the first 4K I've ever run, and I kind of just winged it. In the 6K, you can split the race in half pretty easily, but with the 4K, I mean that's just about when we're feeling good in most of our races."
Additional preparation for next weekend's GLIAC championship includes team members decreasing mileage in practices and fine-tuning the small stuff.
Currently ranked eighth in the GLIAC after an unfavorable finish in the Roy Griak Invitational two weeks ago, Ryan and her team are anticipating that the team's undeniable depth can carry them through the next few meets.
"I think we're right there, though, we're right where we want to be," Ryan said. "We're going to have a good shot at conferences and (NCAA) regionals and hopefully we'll make it to nationals."
Amanda Monthei can be reached at 228-2500 or at firstname.lastname@example.org