-- PurdueTrack&Field (@PurdueTrackXC) October 30, 2016
FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn - Freshman Emma Benner paced the Purdue women to a seventh-place team finish Saturday at the Big Ten Championships. Benner finished sixth overall and earned first team All-Big Ten honors, the only freshman, man or woman, at the meet to do so. Jaret Carpenter paced the men's side with a 16th-place individual finish to help the team take seventh.
"On the women's side, I thought the key to our success was going to be our three through five runners coming through better than they have this season," assistant coach Jeff Kent said. "They executed that. Emma and Kiara McIntosh did a great job leading us. Grace Lachmund, Mary Abramson and Kendall Hacker had big breakthroughs mentally and physically, which led to a pretty good team score. To finish one spot off last year's place after losing two remarkable athletes (all-Big Ten performers Hope Schmelzle and Katie Hoevet) was great. We did what we were fully capable of doing and we're excited about heading into the regional meet with the momentum that we built.
"The men, I thought to tie our finish from last year would be a good day for us," Kent said. "To start off not having one point like we did last year (with Matthew McClintock's championship), it showed we have the depth in our program. To have a pretty youthful squad, I thought we answered the call to compete at the highest level. Our three through five runners were going to be the deciding factor in our fate and a lot of them chose fight, not flight. That was instrumental. With Jaret two spots off All-Big Ten was a testament to his work, as well as our team. I think we have a tremendous amount of momentum with us heading into regionals. Now, we need the seven heading to regionals to lay it all out on the line again like they did today."
Benner was no stranger to the Les Bolstad Course, as she grew up about 30 minutes northeast of Minneapolis and competed there several times as a prep athlete. She used that experience to her advantage, navigating the muddy, hilly course with the lead pack. The Forest Lake native stayed in the top eight throughout the race and was in that group battling for second with 600 meters to go. She outkicked two juniors, one from Penn State and one from Minnesota, to the line to earn sixth place with a 6,000-meter time of 21:08.6.
"I think the race went exactly how I thought it would and it played to my strengths," Benner said. "I knew the course which helped a lot. The hills played to my advantage throughout the race. I'm really happy with how I finished. I didn't have a specific goal of what place to finish, I just wanted to race to the best of my ability and see how I would finish. It was really cool to be on the podium with a lot of girls I've watched and looked up to. To be able to finish with them and be honored with them was really cool."
Benner's finish is one off Schmelzle's finish from last year as the best 6,000-meter Big Ten Championships place in program history. That finish is the best since 2001, when Lindsay Zinn took third in the 5,000-meter race. Benner is just the fourth Boilermaker to earn first team All-Big Ten honors, joining Schmelzle, Zinn and Andrea Everett-Paolillo, who did so in 1986. Benner was the only freshman in the race to finish in the top 10.
She held off multiple All-Americans from cross country and track & field, including Michigan State's Rachele Schulist.
"She ran the picture perfect race," Kent said. "She did an excellent job of finishing the race and earning All-Big Ten. I thought her performance was remarkable and it's exciting to see how good she can be the next three years. I think her finish today shows the tremendous upside she has heading into this postseason and championship season. She has tremendous upside and an unbelievable ability to lead this team."
McIntosh had the best Big Ten Championships of her career. She finished 18th, 22 spots better than she did a year ago, with a time of 21:41.1. She was at the head of a secondary pack and outkicked all of them, finishing ahead of two other runners by less than a second. Abramson was third for Purdue in her second Big Ten Championships. The sophomore finished 37th, 17 spots ahead of her finish last year, with a time of 22:17.9. She also did a nice job of closing out the race, finishing ahead of three runners by a second or less.
Lachmund scored at Big Tens for the first time in her career. After finishing seventh for Purdue at last year's conference meet, she stepped up and finished fourth on the team and 52nd overall. That was 14 overall spots better than she did last season. Hacker rounded out the scoring with a 57th-place finish. Hacker battled back from injury and had her best race of the season, turning in a time of 22:40.9.
"This team is a close-knit group and I consider these girls my sisters," Lachmund said. "I just thought about how much they needed me. That really motivated me down the stretch to keep chasing girls down."
The women's seventh-place finish with 164 points was one spot better than Indiana, which gives a Governor's Cup point to the Boilermakers.
"I think our top five had breakthrough days," Kent said. "Kiara was a little disappointed with her individual finish just because of some tactical things, but she still had her best finish at Big Tens on one of the toughest courses in America. I thought she did a nice job of building on her performances from this season. She just had a couple tactical mistakes that are easily correctable heading into the regionals. She looked good and she'll be ready to go."
On the men's side, Carpenter ran a great race in his first Big Ten Championships. The freshman from Wayzata, Minnesota, about 20 minutes west of the course, battled with the lead pack and was among the top seven for much of the race. As the race progressed, the group separated into a couple different packs. Carpenter, who has competed on the course several times, came through with the second group and finished 16th overall with a time of 25:05.8 in the 8,000-meter race. He was the fourth freshman finisher and two spots off second team All-Big Ten honors.
Junior Jeremy Craven had his best Big Ten finish in his third career conference championship race. He was second on the team with an overall place of 31st and a time of 25:20.6. The finish was 50 spots better than he has ever finished at the meet and it was his second time scoring, after being fifth on the team in 2014. Sophomore Ben Anderson bettered his conference finish from last season by 15 spots. He took 34th with a time of 25:25.8.
Sophomore Jacob Hanawalt, who went out fast and was among the leaders early in the race, took 42nd overall with a time of 25:35.3. Sophomore Matthew Grider rounded out the scoring, finishing 47th with a time of 25:39.0. Grider's finish was 46 places better than last season.
"The biggest thing for me today was getting myself in a good position at the start," Anderson said. "I wanted to run my race, fight off any opponent who tried to get around me, and pick off as many runners ahead of me as I could. Our team is very focused and we aren't afriad to step to the line and make it hurt for 8,000 meters. Our improvements from last year to now are a testament to the work this team has put in, as well as our dedication to the 'P' on the front of our uniforms. I'm excited for the rest of this season and beyond."
The men finished seventh, the same as last season, with 168 points, five points better than a year ago. All five of the men's scorers have remaining eligibility. The winning time on the men's side was 24:35.7, which means McClintock, who graduated last year, still owns the Big Ten record for the conference championship 8k with a time of 23:12.1.
"Jaret and Jeremy have led us this season," Kent said. "But, my hat is definitely off to Ben, Matt and Jake to execute to near perfection today. Now that they have a taste of that in their mouth, their desire is even greater heading into the postseason, with regionals in 12 days. I'm definitely excited about where we're heading."
The Boilermakers have a week off before preparing for the NCAA Great Lakes Regional. That meet is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 11, in Madison, Wisconsin.