Nate Perry, CMUChippewas.com
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - Central Michigan's Bransen Stimpfel was the first man across the finish line at the Jeff Drenth Memorial 5K on Friday morning, notching the first victory of his collegiate career.
Stimpfel shattered his previous best in the 5K - 15 minutes, 55.3 seconds, which he set at least year's Drenth - by more than 50 seconds, finishing at 15:04.2 at Pleasant Hills Golf Course.
"For the first two miles we were all together and it felt really good and then (teammate Logan Kleam) said `If you're feeling good, go for it,' so I did," said Stimpfel, a sophomore from Cass City. "I'm very satisfied with that ... and I think it's going to be a really good season this year."
Stimpfel was a consistent top-seven runner for the Chippewas last season and according to CMU coach Matt Kaczor, he has been improving steadily leading up to the 2017 campaign.
"I think it has a lot to do with the way he finished off (outdoor) track last year," Kaczor said. "He was a Junior National qualifier, which is a big deal, and he wasn't like that out of high school. He was good, but once that hit, once he went into the low 9:20's for the steeplechase, (he realized) that `yeah, I am this good,' and then he went on to have a great summer."
CMU sophomore Mark Beckmann finished fourth in the men's race, posting a time of 15:11.1.
"I couldn't be more impressed with what Mark did today too," Kaczor said. "As primarily a 10K runner, he doesn't quite have the leg speed that our steeplers do, but he went way beyond just holding his own out there."
Luke Anderson (seventh) and freshman Conor Naughton (eighth) also posted top-10 finishes for the CMU men. Just two-10ths of a second separated the pair as as Anderson finished in 15:17.2 and Naughton came in at 15:17.4.
Freshman Riad Rababeh, the 2016 "Mr. Cross Country" of Michigan, finished 14th in his collegiate debut and was the final Chippewa to break the 16-minute barrier with a time of 15:59.1.
The CMU men won the team portion of the event with 22 points. Michigan State came in second with 33.
Taylor Aguillon, a junior making her debut with the varsity team after spending two years with the CMU Running Club, led the Chippewa women.
That Aguillon had not run intercollegiately until Friday made her somewhat of a secret weapon at the Drenth, but her results came as no surprise to Director of Track and Field and women's cross country coach Jenny Swieton.
"After our workout Tuesday, I thought that (a top finish) was possible," Swieton said. "She ran club before and she had some pretty good times - this was obviously a huge PR - but I think with anybody that hasn't had a huge background of training, the room for improvement is just so great that just being around people to run with every day and that are similar to her ability level, it's had a big impact on her.
Megan O'Neil, one of the veterans of the CMU women's team, finished third at 17:28.9. In doing so, she shaved more than 30 seconds from her time at last year's Drenth and finished one spot higher that she did a year ago.
Fellow veteran Hannah Davis took fifth place with a time of 17:51.0, a 50-plus second improvement from her time in last year's Drenth. Freshman Alexis Grandys was the next Chippewa to cross the line, finishing 15th at 18:38.0.
With the massive improvements from a number of Chippewas of both genders, one can't help but feel a sense of excitement in regards to the 2017 cross country season.
"We're young, we're hungry, and we're ready to go," Kaczor said.
The Chippewas will take next week off before running at the Michigan State Spartan Invitational on Friday, Sept. 15.