In season’s ‘most important race of the season,’ NU stumbles to bottom of standings

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Daily file photo by Alison Albelda

Kayla Byrne runs. The freshman cross country runner finished just outside the top 100 at the Big Ten Championships.

John Riker, Reporter

Northwestern coach Jill Miller sees the Big Ten Championship as the most important race of the season for her team.

“When you go to any Big Ten Championship, you know the competition is not only going to be elite, but deep,” Miller said. “The Big Ten Championships, until you’re at the level to compete at the NCAA championships, is the most important race of the year.”

Heading into this year’s championship, Miller said she believed the Wildcats would compete with their conference rivals. Instead, NU stumbled, placing 13th out of 14 teams in the conference championships in Columbus, Ohio.

Coming off a fifth place finish at NCAA Pre Nationals, the Cats failed to maintain momentum. NU struggled to overcome poor positioning in the race’s first few miles and could not make up enough ground as the competition progressed.

“We didn’t get off the line as strongly as I had wanted to,” Miller said. “Most of the women on the team did a good job of not giving up any spots past 3K, but we certainly weren’t at the position we wanted to be up front. If you aren’t there, your point total is going to be way too large to be competitive.”

Seniors Kelly O’Brien and Sarah Nicholson were the first two Wildcats across the line, though neither was able to crack the top 50. O’Brien placed 58th in 21:32.5, with Nicholson finishing six places behind in 21:38.5. Sophomore Rachel McCardell, NU’s top finisher at Pre Nationals, was the Cats’ third finisher in 86th place and 22:15.2.

The team’s disappointment over their performance was evident after the race, Miller said.

“They were certainly not happy with it, and they shouldn’t be,” Miller said. “That’s not where we want to be, it’s not where we’ll ever be again. It took them some time to shake some of that anger and turn toward ‘What can we do? How can we let this motivate us and move forward?’”

Despite the NU’s lackluster finish in the standings, the Cats’ younger runners gained valuable experience competing on a championship stage and played key roles in Sunday’s meet.

Freshmen Abby Osterlund and Kalea Bartolotto rounded out the Cats’ five scorers — placing 91st and 93rd — while sophomore Hannah Hall and freshman Kayla Byrne placed just outside the top 100.

“For all of them, I’ve seen great progress through the last three months,” Miller said. “It’s still a shock to them to see where the competitiveness of the Big Ten is, where the bar really is. Being in the top seven is fantastic for them, but we need everybody to be better.”

Miller sees NU’s chances of qualifying for the national championships as slim, meaning the final race of the season will likely be NCAA Regionals on Nov 15.

“I’m looking for improvement in terms of the approach, the calmness that we bring to the line out there and be able to show that we’re better than what we showed at Big Ten,” she said.

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