Cross Country: Northwestern places third at Gans Creek Classic, builds on solid performances


Photo by Kevin Gunawan, courtesy of Rachel McCardell

Graduate student Rachel McCardell finishes a race. McCardell, who qualified for the NCAA Championships in 2021, finished third at the Gans Creek Classic and led the team to third place overall.

Kate Walter, Assistant Sports Editor

Coming off one of its most prolific seasons in program history, Northwestern is hitting the course this fall with sights set high. 

The Wildcats took third at the Gans Creek Classic in Columbia, Missouri on Friday, only falling behind Big Ten foe No. 28 Illinois and Lipscomb. graduate student Rachel McCardell led the team, finishing in second place and recording a 20:30.6 6K time. NU is currently ranked fourth in the Midwest region. 

“I felt like we had a very solid day,” coach Jill Miller said. “(It) inspires us to keep doing what we’re doing. We see that we’re moving in the right direction.”

The Cats performed well against Big Ten opponents, finishing ahead of Iowa and 2021 Big Ten Champions, Minnesota. Behind McCardell, graduate transfer Ari Marks and senior Kalea Bartolotto crossed the line in seventh and eighth, respectively, with less than half a second separating the two. 

While half the squad competed in Missouri, the other half raced at the Loyola Lakefront Invitational. The Cats took seventh place at Loyola, with senior Elizabeth Bulat finishing 19th and graduate student Hannah Hall in 35th.

During the 2021 season, NU achieved its highest finish at the Midwest Regional Championships in 20 years. McCardell’s third place finish at Regionals, the best in program history, earned her a spot at NCAA Championships, where she finished 82nd. 

After a season of breakthroughs on the individual and team level, McCardell said she has big expectations for this season. 

“We’re trying to qualify for the national championship. We’re trying to finish higher than we ever have in the big time,” McCardell said. “This is the strongest team that we’ve had in a while; depth is definitely our strong point.”

This year, the Cats are welcoming six new runners to the program, which will be anchored by three returning graduate students: Hall and Olivia Verbeke are back for the season alongside McCardell. 

Miller said these veterans returned to “contribute to our goals of creating history.”

The new Cats boast impressive accolades of their own and have already made an impact this season. Marks, the runner-up at 2021 NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships, finished 10th at the Big Ten Preview, right behind McCardell in eighth place.

Freshman Skye Ellis had a bold collegiate debut, spearheading the team’s sweep of the top six spots at the NIU Challenge.

The Bradley Pink Classic is next on tap for NU, with Big Ten Championships and Regionals, held at the same course as the Gans Creek Classic, following soon after.

To qualify for NCAA Championships as a team, the Cats will need to finish in the top two at Regionals or receive an at-large bid. McCardell qualified individually last year by finishing in the top four at Regionals. 

She said team qualification for NCAA Championships wasn’t even a conversation her freshman year, or in 2021. Now, in Miller’s fourth season as head coach and with a roster full of experience, a trip to the championships is NU’s driving focus.

“It was kind of like a dream, but it wasn’t something we believed was super attainable,” said McCardell. “But this year, it is, so that is the ultimate goal and our north star as we approach the season.”

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Twitter: @katewalter03

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