Cross Country: Pianin stars, Northwestern takes 10th at Big Ten Championships

Max Schuman, Reporter

Sophomore Jena Pianin broke the 21-minute mark and set a new personal best for a 6K race, leading the Wildcats to a 10th-place showing in the Big Ten Cross Country Championships on Sunday in Iowa City, Iowa.

Pianin finished 22nd out of 123 runners in the meet with a time of 20:42.0, beating her personal best at the distance by nearly 40 seconds.

Coach April Likhite attributed Pianin’s strong showing to a fast start and the ability to hang with the fastest runners at the meet as they made moves.

“If you want to finish highly at a championship meet, like the Big Ten Championship, you have to go out with the fastest group,” Likhite said. “When the group starts to move, you have to go with them, and she did that.”

Pianin demonstrated her marked improvement over the course of the season by cutting more than a minute off her time from the Big Ten Preview meet, which was run on the same course. As a freshman, she finished 89th in last year’s Big Ten Championship meet.

Pianin’s performance led NU to 10th-place among the 14 teams competing. The Cats finished with 268 points, ahead of Iowa, Rutgers, Nebraska and Maryland.

The nation’s top-ranked team, Michigan State, placed their five scorers inside the top 11 en route to a Big Ten championship. National top 10 teams from Wisconsin and Michigan took second and third, respectively.

Despite a cool and blustery day, with a temperature around 40 degrees and winds touching 20 miles per hour in Iowa City, many of NU’s runners put together season and personal bests at the meet.

Sophomore Andrea Ostenso rode a strong start to a top-50 finish in the meet. She was 31st at the halfway point in the race and ended 48th, with a time of 21:20.3, cutting 15 seconds from her season-best time. The finish is her second top-50 performance in the Big Ten Championships after placing 40th a year ago.

Junior Elena Barham finished 52nd and set a personal best in a 6K with a time of 21:22.4. She was sitting in 61st at the 3K mark and finished strong to move up in the final standings over the second half of the race.

“Elena responded well to what we were saying to her during the race,” Likhite said. “That’s one of the best things a runner can do: actually respond to what we’re trying to get her to do in the middle of the race. I think the excitement of being where she was supposed to be carried her through the whole race.”

Junior Camille Blackman finished 75th with a time of 21:51.5, narrowly setting a personal best at the 6K distance. Another junior, Renee Wellman, rounded out the scorers for NU by placing 96th with her own personal record of 22:30.6.

Despite the strong individual performances and numerous personal bests set, Likhite still saw plenty of room for improvement.

“The times are exciting, but cross country is more about places than times,” she said. “We still haven’t had five girls run a great race together yet.”

The Cats will have two weeks to recover and refocus before their next race at the 2014 NCAA Midwest Regional Championships, in Peoria, Illinois.