Photo Courtesy of Ryan Pickell's Facebook.
Photo Courtesy of Megan McDonald's Facebook.
Photo Courtesy of Megan McDonald’s Facebook.

BY HANNAH GENIG, SPORTS EDITOR 

The cross-country teams at the University of Michigan-Dearborn experienced quite the drastic change of scenery last weekend when they traveled to the “Happiest Place on Earth” — Disney World.

Each year, hundreds of teams from across the country meet up in sunny Florida to compete in the Disney Classic, an annual event sponsored by New Balance. After experiencing bitter weather, poor course conditions and other implications that come with traveling locally for meets, the Wolverines decided it was time to head down south.

“There is a system to look at all upcoming meets for the season and we wanted to do something different than we’ve done before. We wanted a longer trip and we have seniors on the teams that I was trying to reward with something fun” said head coach Joe Horka. “It seemed like a great opportunity, a competitive meet and a really fun trip to take.”

It seems as though this was the perfect time to participate. Because this year marked the 20th anniversary of the famous meet, 24 states were proudly represented with both men and women’s teams and ESPN did full coverage of the events. 

While participating in an event with such immense competition, it comes to no surprise that the runners from UM-Dearborn possess qualities that set them apart from other collegiate teams.

“When you combine what it takes to go to this school and how hard you have to work and how involved these kids are in school, it comes full-circle with how they’re able to dedicate themselves to running. They don’t have every advantage that some of the other schools have, but they use it to motivate themselves and each other,” Horka said.

Both motivated teams had the opportunity to run at the beautiful ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex on Saturday morning in the nice, but humid 78-degree weather. Even though the men’s team placed 20th out of 25 teams in their 8k, several runners certainly stood out from the crowd. Out of nearly 250 runners, Junior Ryan Pickell secured the spot of 109 and set his personal record this season with a time of 28:03. Not too far behind was sophomore Alex Krasuski with a time of 28:12.

The women’s team also represented the maize and blue quite nicely in their 5k, ranking 24th out of 35 teams. Freshman Caroline Mahalak led the group with a 20:59 finish time that put her at the ranking of 112 among 305 runners. Sophomore Emily Eccleton was next in line just a minute later with a finish time of 21:59.

It is apparent that these athletes consistently work hard, but now the Wolverines got the opportunity to play hard, as well.

“The teams spent Friday together with our daily run, then we walked through downtown Disney in the evening and had dinner together. After we ran our races on Saturday morning and cheered each other on, we spent the rest of the day at the Disney parks,” Ryan Pickell said.

The overwhelming support and cohesiveness between the two teams definitely make a difference out on the course, as the numbers reflect. Hopefully this team chemistry will remain as this group of athletes approaches two important meets, the conference championship and the Great Lakes Challenge.

According to coach Horka, the expectation for the Great Lakes Challenge this upcoming weekend is to improve on what the team did at Disney.

“We had strong races for 95 percent of the runners, and I want to use that as a building block and to achieve even more back in colder weather. It was nearly 80 degrees when we raced and we weren’t used to that. Coming back to weather in the 40s and 50s, we’ll be able to take one more step forward that will put us in a good position in the conference,” Horka said.

After a warm and exciting trip, the cross-country teams have since returned to Dearborn and are busy preparing for their meet on Oct. 24 in Grand Rapids.