Cross Country: Wildcats proud with performance at Big Ten’s, but leave wanting more


Photo courtesy of MaryKate Schoonover

Senior Rachel McCardell competes earlier in the 2021 season. McCardell has been one of the Wildcats’ top finishers this season.

Kate Walter, Reporter

Finishing seventh out of 14 Big Ten teams Friday, Northwestern walked away from the Big Ten Championships feeling proud of their performance but also admitting they have room to grow. 

No. 6 Minnesota’s Megan Hasz finished first overall, leading the Golden Gophers to victory. A standout showing from senior Rachel McCardell], who placed fifth in a time of 20:45, highlighted NU’s meet. McCardell described her performance as “a big confidence-building race going into regionals.” This was the highest Big Ten’s finish of McCardell’s career and earned her First-Team All-Big Ten honors. 

“It show(ed) great maturity in terms of mental execution and being in a headspace that allows you to thrive in such a chaotic environment,” coach Jill Miller said of McCardell’s performance. 

By “chaotic environment,” Miller refers to the less-than-optimal conditions at Penn State, where the meet was hosted. In University Park, winds and rain added to the difficulty of the hilly course, and the top five overall finishers all crossed the line in times at least 18 seconds slower than their personal bests. 

“It was brutal out there,” said graduate student Lotte Van der Pol. 

While NU’s seventh-place finish is the same position they took in their most recent championship, Miller believes the strength of the conference this season and the team’s position relative to sixth-place Illinois, No. 25, demonstrates progress. 

“It’s a much better conference this year, in terms of depth,” Miller said. “Being just eight points out of sixth shows huge growth from last year, when we were a really distant seventh from the rest of the field.”

Last year, the Cats finished 74 points behind sixth-place Wisconsin, but this year, that margin shrunk to eight points behind Illinois. Due to pandemic disruptions, the 2020-21 field only featured 10 teams instead of the usual 14. McCardell said a seventh place in this full field “holds greater weight.” 

The team’s average 6k time also improved from their last Big Ten’s, dropping from 21:56 to 21:32. 

McCardell said the result, while not everything the Cats would have hoped for, “still demonstrates a lot of growth for our team and for our program.” 

Behind McCardell, Van der Pol crossed the line as the Cats’ second runner, finishing 22nd in a time of 21:15. Junior Kalea Bartolotto (21:50), senior Olivia Verbeke (21:53), and freshman Amanda Mosborg (21:57) rounded out NU’s top-five, coming in 48th, 53rd, and 61st, respectively. 

The Cats are looking ahead to the NCAA Regional Championship on Nov. 12 in Iowa City, Iowa, which will offer the team a chance to qualify for nationals. In her third season as head coach , Miller is staying patient and trusting the process.

“It takes some time to learn your athletes and garner their trust and get a culture in the right spot,” Miller said. “We finished (the Big Ten Championship) knowing we want something more but also being really proud of the growth.” 


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