Knights finish penultimate at Big Ten Championships
A poor team performance in comparison to its opposition doesn’t directly mean a team performed poorly from an objective standpoint.
Just ask Rutgers men’s cross-country head coach Mike Mulqueen.
“I though we competed very well,” he said. “We went out with the pack and stuck our heads in there and competed.”
He was referring to his Scarlet Knights’ performance at the Big Ten Championships in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, on Sunday. The team finished 11th out of 12 teams with 333 points.
Wisconsin won the meet for the 48th time in program history, racking up only 63 points. All seven of their runners finished in the top 30, including Morgan McDonald, who won the meet by eight seconds. Michigan State and Indiana rounded out the top three.
Rutgers overcame a muddy and rainy course and managed to not finish in last for the first time since they joined the Big Ten. The two previous years saw the Knights finish in last by a wide margin, but this year they managed to edge Iowa by eight points to avoid the cellar for the third straight year.
Rutgers also finished with their lowest point total and best time differential in the last three years.
Sophomore Conor Murphy was the Knights' top performer at the meet, finishing in 58th place with a time of 25:55.
“I just felt pretty strong out there,” he said. “I was able to go out pretty fast while still feeling comfortable and move my way up and pass people throughout the race.”
And while he expressed his disappointment on how he finished place-wise, he was still proud of the team’s overall effort against the tough competition.
Junior Trent Brinkofski was Rutgers’ second-highest finisher, placing in 75th with a time of 26:13.
Rounding out the Knights' top four were sophomore Dominick Munson and junior Alex Livernois, who finished 81st and 82nd respectively.
Other members of the squad who finished in the top 100 were junior Luke Wiley in 87th, freshman Nick Pschunder in 99th, and senior Nick Price in 100th.
Right out of the gate, Rutgers struggled to keep up with the runners from the top-tier Big Ten schools, as Wisconsin and Michigan State racers shot to the front of the pack, leaving the Knights in the dust. They have yet to place a runner in the top 50 since joining the Big Ten.
Rutgers had two weeks to prepare after finishing sixth in the Princeton Invitational, and according to Murphy, whatever they did must have worked.
“We’ve been putting in all the work that we should be putting in, and just to go out there and compete with the other guys in the race is all we could ask for," Murphy said. "The more we train, the better we feel during the race. We’ve been training hard, so we should be able to run and push ourselves and go out faster without hurting as much.”
Overall, the team seemed like they could have done better, but were still satisfied with how they performed compared to the previous two years’ meets.
“It was tough,” Murphy said. “It was a course that we’d never seen before, and there were a lot of hills and lot of mud, so footing was tough. It was harder than most races, but everyone was excited that we moved up one spot in the standings to the previous two years.”
The Knights return to action Nov. 11, at the District II Championships in State College, Pennsylvania. They fell two spots to No. 11 in the latest U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s Mid-Atlantic regional poll, so they hope to make up ground when they compete solely against teams from the region.
There’s no shame in the way Rutgers performed against one of the best cross-country conferences in the nation. Climbing out of the cellar was a big step forward for the team, and hopefully they can build off of that in future years and potentially become a presence in the Big Ten.
“We’re starting to belong in the conference,” Murphy said.
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