Cross Country: Wildcats balance track and cross country in short indoor season


Daily file photo by Alison Albelda

Elizabeth Bulat runs in the Loyola Lakefront Invite in 2019.

Sophia Scanlan, Daily Senior Staffer

Indoor track is back for Northwestern — and so is cross country.

After no collegiate competition last fall, the Wildcats have made up for it this winter by competing in two track meets and the Big Ten Cross Country Championships. NU suited up for its first race in nearly a year at the Badger Icebreaker on Jan 16., the championships on Jan. 30 and most recently the Hoosier Hills Invite in Bloomington, Ind. on Saturday.

The Cats participated in both the 1-mile and 3,000-meter races at the Hoosier Hills Invite, with sophomore Kalea Bartolotto finishing first for NU in the 1-mile at 5:02.19. Freshman Emily Casaclang and junior Olivia Verbeke came right behind, within a minute of Bartolotto.

“We went into the race knowing we wanted to work together,” Bartolotto said of their close finish times. “It was the first time in a while running the mile for a lot of us, so we kind of just went in with the mindset of work together, use each other and finish hard.”

In the 3,000-meter race — her first time ever running that distance— junior Rachel McCardell crossed the finish line first for the Cats with a time of 9:39.70.

McCardell said that she was pleased with her performance, but would have been happy with anything since she was back racing again.

“I honestly can’t remember a time that me individually or…our team in general has been so excited for a race,” she said. “We were all a little bit more nervous than usual but along with the nerves came the excitement, so it was so nice to just shake the rust off and get a race in.”

Races look different now to accommodate for COVID-19 safety protocols. All competition is within the Big Ten, so meets are smaller than usual. Runners wear masks until just before they go to the starting line and mask up again within 60 seconds of finishing. And, no fans are allowed at the facilities.

“Environmentally with no fans, it’s a different feel,” coach Jill Miller said. “It’s very quiet, something that no athletes are really used to right now.”

But Miller said she’s been impressed with how her team has handled themselves, especially with so many back-to-back competitions.

With another meet in Iowa City this weekend, NU will have participated in four competitions in a five-week span— something they wouldn’t do in a typical season. On top of that, the Cats normally wouldn’t participate in a cross country meet in the middle of the indoor track season.

As a result, the squad has had to switch from a long-distance to a short-distance mindset more quickly than usual, McCardell said. Most runners will compete in the 5,000-meter race this weekend, and the Michigan native added that preparing for a longer race is different than getting ready for a 1-mile.

“There’s a lot more time to calm down, to be in your head, but also to panic and mess up or lose confidence when it starts to get painful,” McCardell said. “We have to do a lot more mental prep because we have to equip ourselves to handle that pain and still be confident and strong when it starts to hurt — whereas in the mile, it does hurt, but you only have to endure it for a couple minutes.”

McCardell added that even though the team may have “groaned and grumbled” about the tight schedule in the past, they aren’t fazed anymore — just happy for the chance to compete again.

Ahead of this weekend’s meet in Iowa, NU has prioritized recovery and has pushed back some workouts and lift sessions to help runners with the quick turnaround, Miller said.

“(We’re) just making sure that we absorb all the training and all the racing that we’re doing,” she added. “I’m really excited about how the team feels coming off of this weekend.”

Correction: A previous version of the article had a caption misidentifying junior Elizabeth Bulat as junior Kalea Bartolotto. The Daily regrets the error. 

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Twitter: @sophia_scanlan

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