Cross Country: Wildcats pushing for top two finish at regional meet, NCAA Championships bid


Source: Northwestern Athletics

Sarah Nicholson (third from left) and Aubrey Roberts round a turn. The Cats will need both to post strong performances for the squad to reach NCAA Championships.

Troy Closson , Managing Editor

Cross Country

This year could be the one.

As coach ‘A Havahla Haynes readies her squad for this weekend’s NCAA Midwest Regional in Peoria, Illinois, Northwestern has one goal in mind: clinching a spot in NCAA Championships for the first time in program history.

“Our eyes are on the automatic bids,” Haynes said after Big Ten Championships.

The Wildcats are fresh off one of their best performances of the season at the meet over Halloween weekend. Against Big Ten rivals, junior powerhouse Aubrey Roberts crossed the line second to lead the team to a seventh place finish in the overall standings — the best placement for the program since NU grabbed seventh at Big Tens six years ago.

At Midwest Regionals, that 2012 squad placed fourth, failing to qualify for NCAAs. Last year’s ninth place finish at the meet marked a disappointing close to the season. For this group to break that trend, they’ll need to place in the top two to automatically advance to NCAAs, held the following weekend in Madison, Wisconsin.

It’ll be a steep challenge for the Cats. Breaking the top two won’t happen without a competitive group effort along the Illinois River against No. 15 Iowa State, No. 23 Minnesota and No. 26 Oklahoma State — the three teams above NU in regional rankings.

“If we are anywhere near Minnesota, it means we’re near Oklahoma State and then it’s going to be a battle for places,” Haynes said, “and I think we can be competitive.”

Minnesota placed sixth at Big Tens, 33 points ahead of the Cats. But the biggest difference came between the Golden Gophers’ two-runner, junior Megan Hasz, who placed 12th and the Wildcats’ No. 2 — Sarah Nicholson — who finished 36th.

Otherwise, place-by-place, NU matched up evenly with the Minneapolis-based squad.

“They’re really strong but (we’re going to) focus on the depth of our team and making sure our three through five runners are staying in contact with them,” Nicholson said after conference championships. “If we’re able to, that gives us a good shot at Nationals.”

Big Tens, Nicholson added, were “a really big confidence booster” for the Cats: The team’s strong performance showcased the strength in numbers NU’s developed over this season’s campaign.

After finishing fourth at the meet in two consecutive years, Roberts will likely look to improve her placement and hope for a podium finish this time around.

“Regionals — in some ways — are less competitive (than Big Tens),” she said, “so being on that stage against such a high level of competition only prepares us for the future.”

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