Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Cats take 11th at Roy Griak Invite

The meet was big, with 29 of the nation’s top teams attending. And to the average spectator, Northwestern’s cross country team did not appear to have much of a chance to flex its muscles at Saturday’s Roy Griak Invitational in Minneapolis.

Good thing the team doesn’t worry about the average spectator.

NU, in only its third season of cross country, strode into Minneapolis like giants and placed 11th in the 29 team field at the third-largest meet in the nation.

“I was extremely pleased,” coach April Ecke said. “First of all, it was a huge meet and the girls handled it really well for it being a meet like that. They walked into it positive and confident.”

The Wildcats needed some degree of confidence walking into uncharted territory — a 6-kilometer race that is new this year.

“They were ready for it,” Ecke said. “It was new for everybody. It’s more of a mental thing than anything else.”

The Cats’ top runner, Rachel Evjen, held true to form in leading NU with a time of 21:47 and a 22nd-place finish.

Laura Evans and Nicole Kuznia also came up big for the Cats. Evans, who placed 49th overall with a time of 22:10, was NU’s No. 2 runner Saturday — two places better than her effort last weekend.

Kuznia also moved up two spots for the team, finishing as the team’s No. 4 runner and placing 73rd overall with a time of 22:32.

“Evans really impressed me,” Ecke said. “She’s the most improved I’ve ever seen. And Nicole Kuznia helped saved the meet for us. With 200 meters left, she was coming in with a smile on her face.”

To prepare the team for the physical aspect of the 6K race, Ecke ran the team’s workouts nearly at race pace, for longer periods of time and with reduced rest between intervals.

Despite NU’s preparation for this new race, Ecke is not 100 percent behind the 6K.

“I actually was somewhat opposed to it,” she said. “It hurts teams more that have track programs. For us, I think it can benefit us,” because there is no track program at NU.

Ecke said schools that do have track programs are hurt by the 6K, because mid-distance track runners who also participate in cross country will have a tough time running the longer races. But it was difficult on everyone.

“I’m kind of a miler at heart,” Kuznia said. “The 6K probably scares me more than it does average people, but there’s nothing you can do about it. Like the football team had to play a fifth quarter, it’s just running an extra kilometer.”

Despite the strong showing, the Cats still face some problems. Ecke pointed to the inconsistency of the squad’s upper echelon, as the top five has changed at every meet.

Nonetheless, there is a bright spot with the top five, which are the runners who score in meets.

“The time between our first and fifth runner was only 50 seconds (on Saturday), and that’s a great spread,” Ecke said.

Realizing the need for consistency in the top five, Kuznia said she had to persevere and forget about everything that was holding her back earlier in the season.

“I was disappointed because I knew I could run better than I was running,” she said. “I didn’t have that competitive edge. It was a conscious decision (to run better). I refused to let myself fail.

“It was also kind of the Minnesota air,” the Minnesota native added. “It was nice because I had a lot of fan support.”

Ecke pointed out that despite the strong showing on Saturday, it is still early in the season.

“I’m really pleased with the progress that they’re making,” Ecke said. “I’m so impressed with how my freshmen have jumped into it this year.

“I do think we’re better than what we ran (Saturday). There’s more to come.”

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Cats take 11th at Roy Griak Invite