Cross Country: Kocha, Wildcats close season at Regionals

Ellie Friedmann, Reporter

Senior Libby Kocha ended her Northwestern cross country career on a high note, earning All-Region honors, achieving a personal best time for the 6k distance and leading her team to ninth place in the Midwest region.

The Wildcats traveled to Iowa State on Friday to compete in the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships, in which they were projected to place 13th. Kocha was the only runner who had ever raced in the regional championships before, yet the Cats managed to finish ninth, ahead of Big Ten competitors Nebraska and Iowa. They finished just five points behind Illinois.

Kocha finished the 6k course in a time of 20 minutes and 57 seconds, a massive improvement from her previous personal best of 21 minutes and 20 seconds at the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational in October. She placed 18th overall Friday, joining the top 25 finishers in earning regional accolades, the first of her career. Coach April Likhite said Kocha was probably in the best shape of her life this season, having trained ardently for the past six months. This race was also Kocha’s last opportunity to leave her mark on the NU cross country team.

“Just knowing that it was my last race, I didn’t want to have any regrets or leave anything behind, and somehow that really pushed me,” Kocha said. “My coach just said we should all be aiming for top 30, so I was thinking that, and then when they told me I was top 25 at the mile, I kind of went for it.”

Originally, Kocha didn’t have plans to run competitively in college. She said she never expected to be NU’s top finisher in the last race of the season — she barely made the walk-on standards freshman year.

“I walked onto the team kind of last minute, not expecting much out of it,” Kocha said. “I’ve had some disappointment and successes and all that. It was definitely like nothing I expected.”

What Kocha said was different and surprising about Regionals was that all but one of her teammates were underclassmen. She said the difference in age didn’t damage the unity of the team, but Likhite said the inexperience definitely affected the Cats’ performance.

“You can’t make up for experience,” Lihite said. “I think we just need to continue to put the girls in situations where they can run in big meets like that and learn from the season and move on from there.”

Some of the younger members of the team lost momentum after about three kilometers. Likhite said they may have gone out too fast but can use that mistake to improve for next year.

One freshman, however, especially stood out at the meet. Andrea Ostenso finished second for the Cats and placed 33rd overall.

“Coming in as a freshman, I was nervous and scared and didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “But having all this experience as a freshman that I’m so lucky to have had, I think next year I’ll have a better sense of what is going on, and I can really just be confident in my running.”

She said she is excited by the young team’s potential. The talented freshmen of this season will be even stronger and more confident next year, so long as the Cats aren’t plagued by injury again.

Likhite said everyone on her team handles the training differently. She stressed the importance of reevaluating the actions of the athletes and the coaching staff to make sure they’re constantly improving.

The Cats’ training for the 2014 cross country season start soon. Although NU doesn’t have an official women’s track and field team, the Cats train all winter and spring just like any other Big Ten team.

“I think that’s key in our program,” Likhite said. “Making sure the girls approach it that way and they don’t think that the next six months are off-season because if you think that way, you live life that way. We need to do what every other school in the Big Ten in our region is doing in order to be competitive.”

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