Cross Country: Ahead of Pre-Nationals, Wildcats turn disappointment into drive

Max Schuman, Reporter

Cross Country

At the Notre Dame Invitational earlier this season, against the biggest and deepest field the team had faced all year, Northwestern came away with a disappointing 12th-place finish out of 22 teams.

Some individuals ran well for the Wildcats — sophomores Jena Pianin and Andrea Ostenso grabbed top-30 finishes and showed significant improvement over their times from last year — but overall the Cats left South Bend with bitter tastes in their mouths after an unsatisfactory team showing and were unafraid to voice their displeasure afterwards.

“The team meeting we had was one of the most vocal team meetings we’ve ever had,” coach April Likhite said. “The insights that each individual shared with each other were pretty powerful.”

At Saturday’s Pre-Nationals Invitational in Terre Haute, Indiana, NU sees an opportunity to redeem itself and use its recent disappointment as motivation for a strong performance at a large and competitive meet.

“There are certain teams that beat us at Notre Dame who we don’t want to beat us again,” junior Camille Blackman said.

The key, according to Likhite, is a more aggressive approach to Saturday’s race right from the beginning.

“You’ve got to get out, you’ve got to get yourself in a good position, so that you’re not wasting all this energy trying to catch up and bring people in,” she said. “Even from the top with Andy and Jena, if they’re at least with that pack or that pack is very close to them, it takes the stress off.”

The players echoed their coach’s sentiments.

“There’s just such a high energy at the start of the race, so a lot of people go out fast,” Blackman said. “If you don’t go out with this crowd in an aggressive manner, you get caught behind hundreds of girls and that really slows you down.”

This meet will serve as an important test for NU on a big stage. The race, which will feature 78 other women’s teams, will be held on the course that will host the 2014 NCAA Divison 1 National Championship meet for the 11th time in 13 years.

“No matter how the race goes, you can take from it that ‘Oh, now I know the course for Nationals,’” Blackman said.

The Cats aren’t just looking for a taste of a championship atmosphere, though. Their plan is to make some noise in Terre Haute and gain confidence for the rest of the season.

“We realized after Notre Dame that we hadn’t been as focused on certain competitors,” Blackman said. “Going into this race we’re a lot more focused on certain teams that we need to be with at certain points in the race and who we need to focus on beating.”

For her part, Likhite is relentlessly pushing her team forward.

“We know that we can do better and we need to do better,” she said. “We’re really excited about this opportunity to really make some great things happen that we’re confident we’re capable of doing.”

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Clarification: A previous headline misrepresented the upcoming meet. Northwestern will compete at Pre-Nationals this weekend not Nationals, as previously implied.