The dream at the beginning of the season was simple: Make the NCAA Championships.
However, that vision did not quite become a reality Friday at the NCAA Midwest Regional in Springfield, Mo.
Northwestern was running wild for the first part of the race, a goal the team had the entire season. Senior Audrey Huth and juniors Lexie Goldsmith and Michelle Moriset were off to an incredible start, all of them hanging in the top pack.
“I had never seen us have such a great start,” coach April Likhite said.
At the 4-kilometer mark, Likhite spotted her runners, who were still on a burning pace. Likhite saw the majority of her runners in the top 30. Huth and Goldsmith were seventh and eighth, respectively, with Moriset still hanging toward the front. The excellent start made the team believe it could finish second or third and punch its ticket to the NCAA Championship.
But at about the 700-meter mark, the wheels fell off for the Cats. Likhite noticed redshirt senior Sophie Ewald started to run out of gas in her middle group.
Huth rounded the final turn and spotted the lead runner heading toward the finish line.
“I’m going to catch her,” Huth said about her thought process. “I’ve got this.”
Then Likhite noticed something odd while she was waiting at the finish line.
“We saw that Audrey still hadn’t crossed the line,” Likhite said. “I didn’t see it happen. But I’m probably glad I didn’t because I wouldn’t be able to get the image out of my head.”
At 150 meters away from the finish line, Huth, in what would be her last cross-country race donning the purple and white, finally hit the wall.
“I remember slowing down a little bit,” Huth said. “My legs wouldn’t move anymore. The next thing I remember was being on the ground.”
Goldsmith, who was running side-by-side with Huth at the time, was disturbed by what happened to Huth as well.
“It kind of freaked me out a little bit,” Goldsmith recalled. “It was really heart-wrenching to see.”
NU’s captain had fallen, and she could not get up. Her legs simply did not respond. As girl after girl continued to pass her and finish before her, Huth did everything she could to get to the finish line, including crawling. Huth’s father even tried to get on the course to help his daughter up, but any touch by a person not in the race would have disqualified her.
“I would take a couple steps and then fall again,” Huth said. “I ended up walking through completely. I don’t really remember that much at all.
Huth went from a top-10 finish to 209th place out of 211. It took five minutes for NU’s 6K record holder to go 150 meters.
NU did, however, finish in fourth place, its highest result in a decade. Goldsmith, who finished 10th overall, was named to the All-Midwest Regional team for the second year in a row. Moriset joined Goldsmith on the All-Midwest Regional team with a 20th place finish. Goldsmith, who bounced back tremendously from a disappointing run at the Big Ten Championships, attributed her success to her pre-game mental preparation.
“At Big Tens, I just wasn’t 100 percent focused,” Goldsmith said. “I didn’t have all the confidence. But at Regionals, I felt really confident. I’ve been working so hard all season. I wanted to do this for my team, my coaches, my family, my school. Something just clicked for me. I could tell even before the race that it was going to go well.”
The Cats lost a close one again when Goldsmith missed earning an at-large bid to run at the NCAA Championships by one spot.
But NU does head into the off-season with a lot of optimism for next year. Goldsmith and Moriset will lead NU into 2013 with hopes of keeping up the momentum that came from successful racing this year. Huth, who will run for a fifth year at another school, always preached to her team to never leave anything behind on the course. Though her result may not have left her satisfied, Huth said she is tremendously happy with what her team has been able to accomplish this year.
“It definitely isn’t how I thought my senior year would end by any means,” Huth said. “But ultimately the team finished the best it has in the last 10 years. I may not have walked away as an individual satisfied and we may not have met our exact team goals, but we made big strides this year that we haven’t been able to make in a while. It was pretty cool to have goals like these and have a shot at accomplishing them this year. That’s definitely satisfying.”