Cross Country: Wildcats fail to meet expectations, finish tenth at Big Tens

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The Wildcats fell short of expectations Sunday at the Big Ten Championships hosted by Purdue.

Northwestern finished tenth of 12 teams. The team’s goal was to finish in the top seven.

Freshman Andrea Ostenso finished first for the Cats, placing 40th in a field of 104 runners. She ran the 6K course in 22:03, the seventh fastest time for a freshman that day. Sophomore Camille Blackman returned from injury to finish second for the Cats, coming in 55th place overall with a time of 22:22. Senior Libby Kocha finished next, followed by freshman Elena Miller and senior Julia Buford.

Coach April Likhite said she and her team were disappointed with their finish because they are better than 10th in the Big Ten. She said Ostenso and Blackman had great performances, but at a competitive meet like the Big Ten Championships, it takes five stellar performances to do well.

“We were hoping with everyone injured that we could still pull through,” Ostenso said. “Not everyone had their best races, but you can’t have your best race every day.”

The most unexpected performance the Cats witnessed Sunday was that of Ohio State. Earlier in the season at the Notre Dame Adidas Invitational, NU beat Ohio State by seven points. Ohio State finished fifth Sunday, beating Indiana and Wisconsin, two teams ranked in the USTFCCCA top 30 women’s cross country poll.

“I think Ohio State was probably the biggest surprise for us,” Likhite said. “We definitely thought we could beat them or at least run with them, but they were much better than us on Sunday.”

Likhite said the reason the Cats did not perform well was a continued struggle they have faced all season: injuries. Ohio State and the other teams were able to utilize their top, healthy runners, while the Cats suffered from the absence of their fastest runner, Michelle Moriset. Likhite still doesn’t know when Moriset will be recovered from her injury.

“Overall, we had a really young group running, and I think it was a great experience for them,” Likhite said. “It’s younger than what you’re typically hoping to bring to a championship race, but in the end we hope that is going to help us down the road.”

This weekend the Cats will race in the NIU Huskie Open. Likhite said the meet will present an opportunity for the runners to boost their confidence after the Big Ten Championships and to earn a spot on NU’s team for the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships the following weekend.

Likhite is working on finding ways to help her runners race better. She said nothing will change their fitness this late in the season, but she can help instill in them a positive attitude moving forward. Ostenso said she feels the same way.

“A lot of running is mentality,” Ostenso said. “If you go into a race and you’re really confident, you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Even though running is painful, you can get through that when you have a good mindset about it.”

Twitter: @elliefriedmann