Cross Country: Northwestern seeks redemption at Big Ten Championships

Ellie Friedmann, Reporter

The Wildcats are ready to redeem themselves after a few shortcomings this season.

The Big Ten Championships take place Sunday at Purdue and feature six teams ranked in the USTFCCCA top 30 poll. Northwestern is not ranked in the top 30, but coach April Likhite said her team can finish in the top seven this weekend.

The Cats’ reserve team ran well Friday at the Illini Open in Champaign, Ill. No official team scores were kept, but freshman Ellen Patterson and sophomore Jessie Baloga finished third and fourth, respectively, of 56 runners.

“Ellen and Jessie are coming around really well,” Likhite said. “Right now, we haven’t made any changes to the Big Ten group, but they are on hold in case we have to make any last minute changes.”

Likhite said a couple of her runners had the potential to win the meet but faced unexpected and unusual competition. The first- and second-place runners finished almost a minute faster than Patterson and Baloga on the 5K course. Although these finishers displaced NU runners by two spots, Likhite said they motivated the Cats and pushed them to a fast first kilometer.

“I think we had some really good performances,” Likhite said. “Overall, we had four girls that raced really, really well. It was an opportunity for them to get a little more experience.”

The rest of the team has been preparing for the competition this weekend. The Cats will send a squad with only two seniors, Julia Buford and Libby Kocha. One of NU’s top runners, sophomore Camille Blackman, will return to race after a few weeks’ hiatus due to tendinitis. Many members of NU’s Big Ten squad are freshmen, but Likhite said this shouldn’t negatively impact their performance at all.

The Cats are prepared to turn around their season. Buford said they have been tapering their training, getting plenty of time to rest and feel fresh for Sunday. She added that Blackman will help the team immensely.

“She’s always there to push people,” Buford said. “She’s one of the people who isn’t afraid to pull the team along or to make moves when no one else is making a move, so I think that will be huge help.”

Even though Buford and Kocha are the only seniors, they feel confident about their leadership and about the strength of the underclassmen. Buford said her teammates have all been leading one another in workouts, and she and Kocha are helping them to not be afraid to take risks.

The biggest challenge for NU could be putting past races behind them. Buford said her team needs to overcome disappointment from previous meets and keep in mind that it is not too late to turn the season around. Several races this season have featured a large volume of runners. Buford said the smaller field of only about 100 runners at the Big Ten Championships will allow the Cats to get up toward the front and feel more confident.

Likhite wants her runners to attack their racing strategy and stay focused and competitive. NU’s most direct competition is Ohio State, a team it barely beat at the Notre Dame Adidas Invitational in early October.

“In a big race like the Big Ten Championships, you never know what can happen,” Likhite said. “What we need is for every girl to execute the plan that we set for them and to finish the race thinking they ran the best they could that day.”

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