Cross Country: Northwestern wins Bradley Pink Classic, McCardell leads the way


Photo courtesy of Megan Slamkowski

Sophomores Ava Earl and Anna Hightower race toward the finish at the Big Ten Preview. The duo finished 14th and 15th, respectively, at the Bradley Pink Classic, both setting personal best times in the 6,000-meter.

Kate Walter, Assistant Sports Editor

Coming off a hard training block, coach Jill Miller said Northwestern entered the Bradley Pink Classic on Friday focused on executing race strategies, rather than results. 

But a first place finish and a handful of PRs later, the Wildcats’ grit was on full display.

“I was really impressed with their toughness because I knew there was nobody out there that was feeling full of energy or feeling great by any stretch of the means,” Miller said. “They did a great job of sticking with each other off the line, and then really pushing each other throughout the race.”

Graduate student Rachel McCardell finished fourth and led the charge for the Cats, setting a new personal best time of 20:11 in the 6k. The sophomore duo of Ava Earl and Anna Hightower finished as NU’s second and third runners for the day, placing 14th (20:38) and 15th (20:39), respectively.

Both also achieved personal bests alongside McCardell. Earl said she and Hightower have similar running styles, calling it “joyous” to run with her. 

Senior Kalea Bartolotto and graduate student Ari Marks crossed the line in 19th (20:46) and 20th (20:48), rounding out NU’s top five. 

McCardell applauded this pack of four for their impressive showing at the meet, saying they did a great job working together and “feeding off each other’s strengths.”

She said the team is proud of its win, but also focused on the road ahead in the postseason.

“While we’re very excited about it, and very proud of how far we’ve come, we’re definitely by no means taking our foot off the gas pedal and very much looking at it as a stepping stone for our future races,” McCardell said.

The Cats are currently ranked third in the Midwest region, up one spot from their ranking last month. After placing behind Big Ten foe Illinois at the Gans Creek Classic last month, the Cats came roaring back to best the Fighting Illini this weekend. Bradley, the host of the meet, took third. 

Miller said the Cats pride themselves on a dedication to the philosophy that “hard work is fun.” McCardell said this outlook helps the team keep perspective throughout the grind of training and competition.

“This is meant to be fun … always keeping that in mind when we’re doing these really difficult things, painful workouts, just remembering that it is our choice to be there,” McCardell said. ”It’s so much better when you can recognize the joy and the fun in it.” 

After capping off the regular season with a win, NU now looks to build on its 2021 championship season performance. 

Last year, the Cats finished fourth at Regionals, their highest finish in the last two decades, and McCardell qualified for NCAA Championships. The team took seventh at the Big Ten championship.  

Now, in her fourth season at the helm, Miller said NU is ready to embrace the challenge of a competitive championship season. The team is aware things will get harder from here, Miller said, but she feels the team is well-prepared.

Earl said the team has a saying they rely on to channel the nerves of the postseason into excitement: “We’re getting our butterflies into formation.”

“Taking those nervous butterflies and kind of making them into excitement is something that we do really well,” Earl said. 

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Twitter: @katewalter03

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