Cross Country: Cats struggle against competitive field at Joe Piane Invitational


Photo: Mary Kate Schoonover

Junior Kalea Bartolotto runs at the Joe Piane Invitational. Bartolotto finished second on the team at the Joe Piane Invitational with a time of 17:26.6.

Charlotte Varnes, Development and Recruitment Editor

Northwestern fell short in its race to victory against some of the nation’s top teams at Friday’s Joe Piane Invitational, finishing 24th in a field of 25 teams and last among all Big Ten programs. 

The Wildcats faced 12 of the top 29 teams in the country as well as four other Big Ten programs on South Bend’s Burke Golf Course. The performance moved NU down two slots from No. 5 to No. 7 in the Midwest region.

Coach Jill Miller said she felt the race was the most competitive meet that her athletes had faced in their college careers, and was also an important learning moment.

“What we saw was a huge inexperience with competition of that level,” Miller said. “With that said, I’m grateful for the experience because we will have to learn how to manage that sort of environment if we’d like to compete at a national championship.”

Senior Rachel McCardell led the NU runners, finishing 13th in a field of nearly 200 competitors with a time of 16:33.3. McCardell said her result was “exciting” and “validating,” adding that she wants to approach the rest of the season with the “same type of energy.”

Miller said she was proud of McCardell’s resilience during the latter half of the race, and believes that she has a “huge margin of growth” still ahead of her this season. 

Behind McCardell, junior Kalea Bartolotto finished second for the Cats with a time of 17:26.6. Following her, graduate student Lotte Van der Pol, freshman Abbie Draheim and freshman Amanda Mosborg rounded out the scoring for NU, contributing to a final score of 556. 

Bartolotto said the Cats’ performance did not fully represent their abilities. The team was “unprepared” for the difficulty of their competition and the challenging course, she said.

“It was not a testament to our fitness,” Bartolotto said. “We can perform better than that, we can do better than that, we can run a lot faster than that.”

Friday’s race took place on a flat, narrow golf course. This was a significant change from NU’s previous races this season, which both had fields of less than 15 teams and on hilly, wide courses.

McCardell said the team was surprised by the style of race because it had been a long time since the Cats competed in that sort of setting, but the team learned from the experience.

Miller agreed, adding that it was a “great experience” despite the difficulties NU faced.

“No matter how much time we spend on visualization of race environments, until you’ve been in one like that, it can be really challenging to manage,” Miller said. “It was certainly a shock to the system in terms of course setup, which was very flat, very fast, very narrow — not a typical cross country course.”

The Cats also faced a challenging test from Big Ten foes, competing against Purdue, Indiana, Illinois and Minnesota. Among these programs, Purdue and Indiana finished closest to the Cats, taking 18th and 17th place respectively. 

Miller said she doesn’t want Friday’s result to change the team’s hopes for the Big Ten Championship later this month. While the race was difficult, she didn’t feel it should be a catalyst to completely reexamine the team’s progress.

“Training is going really well and energy is in an incredible place,” Miller said. “There are so many things this team is doing well right now. I don’t think it’s time to say, ‘Stop in our tracks. We have to figure out a new way forward.’”

Correction: A previous version of this article included a photo of junior Elizabeth Bulat and misidentified her as junior Kalea Bartolotto. The Daily regrets the error.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @charvarnes11

Related Stories: 

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

Q&A: Cross country coach Jill Miller speaks about training adjustments and team bonding amid COVID-19

Cross Country: Cats look to continue strong start at Joe Piane Invitational