Cross Country: Cats to host Big Ten Championships on Sunday

Ellie Friedmann, Reporter

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Cross Country

The Wildcats will race for the first time on the Sydney Marovitz Golf Course in Chicago this Sunday as they host the 2015 Big Ten Championships.

Under new guidance by coach ‘A Havahla Haynes, Northwestern has experienced steady growth this season, working on a solid team racing strategy and seeing several freshmen women adjust successfully to Division I college training. As they head into Big Tens, the Cats have lost a top scorer, junior Jena Pianin, due to injury, but they still anticipate reaching their goal of finishing in the top 10 in a field of 14 competitive teams.

“Obviously Jena getting hurt is unfortunate. But the rest of the women’s training has gone well, and the progression leading up to Big Tens has been great,” Haynes said. “All the women have seen those improvements, and we’re healthier than we were at the beginning of the season, which is huge.”

In order to be successful in this meet, Haynes said her team is going to need to be competitive with Iowa. NU surpassed Iowa in a close race earlier in the season at the Joe Piane Notre Dame Cross Country Invitational, but the Cats will need to have strong performances by their top five runners to secure that one victory at the meet.

In addition to Iowa, NU will chase some of the faster teams as a way to gauge its competitiveness in the race and stay aggressive. Though the Cats may not be able to compete with Indiana and Ohio State’s No. 1 runners, Haynes said she thinks her athletes should make contact with the second through fifth runners from these teams so they can score crucial points.

Though they are hosting the meet, NU’s home-course advantage is unique. No runners competing on Sunday, including the Cats, have stepped foot on the course before. It will be a brand new course in a brand new setting, but senior Renee Wellman said it doesn’t matter.

Wellman will not be competing Sunday, but she said she will be in attendance to cheer on her team. When the Big Ten Championships are hosted elsewhere, it’s difficult for women not competing to travel and support the squad. Hosting the Big Ten Championships in Chicago, which the Cats haven’t done before, could attract more NU fans, which means the runners will get some helpful support.

“It’s a really, really great feeling to see purple and to hear your name called,” Wellman said. “When the energy is directed toward you, it can only help.”

In Haynes’ eyes, her athletes are ready to compete on the new turf. With a roster of nine women, including two freshmen, two sophomores, one junior and four seniors, several have raced in Big Ten Championship races before. For those who haven’t, Haynes said the race will be an experience that will turn them into smarter runners for future seasons, especially freshmen Mary Orders and Hannah Anderson.

“I think experiencing Big Ten cross country makes you better,” said Haynes, who competed for Wisconsin during her undergraduate career. “The experience helps. I don’t think being on a course before or not changes much about what a cross country runner does. The fact that it’s a new course is irrelevant.”