Cross Country: Northwestern looks to make its mark at the Big Ten Championships


Photo courtesy of Megan Slamkowski

The Cats warm up before a race. The squad has placed in the top three in three of its past four events.

Jake Epstein, Reporter

As Northwestern nears the Big Ten Championships on Friday, the No. 29 Wildcats, one of five Big Ten teams ranked inside the top 30, will be looking to carry momentum from their Bradley Pink Classic victory two weeks ago.

The six-kilometer race, slated to begin at 9:45 a.m., stretches across the University of Michigan Golf Course. NU ran the same course back in September, where they placed third at the Big Ten Preview. Race day conditions appear rather favorable, with temperatures expected to be in the low 40s with five mph winds.

“The course is an incredibly challenging one,” coach Jill Miller said. “There’s many aspects to it. The main one (challenge) being that there are several long hills that you have to be ready for.” 

The Cats, who return two top-50 finishers from last year’s event, need a collective effort to improve upon a seventh-place result at the Big Ten Championships at Penn State last October. A combination of veteran leadership and young talent forms NU’s five scoring runners, representing a squad ranked in the top 30 for the first time in 20 years.

The team will lean heavily on graduate student Rachel McCardell, who recently set a six-kilometer season-best at the Bradley Pink Classic, clocking in at 20:11.5. After a fifth-place performance at the Big Ten Championships last year, McCardell is one to watch in Ann Arbor.

“McCardell has been leading our team in every race so far this season and had an awesome championship campaign last year,” Miller said. “But what I really like is our depth and how interchangeable we are, pretty much from (runners) two through seven.”

NU added graduate student Ari Marks to the squad this fall from Wellesley College. The NCAA Division III National Championship runner-up has joined McCardell as a scoring runner in each of their past three shared events. Look for McCardell, Marks and senior Kalea Bartolotto to provide a veteran presence for the Cats, alongside graduate student Olivia Verbeke and junior Katherine Hessler.

Star-studded sophomores Ava Earl and Anna Hightower, each coming off personal records and top-15 finishes at the Bradley Pink Classic, also look to make noise for NU in their first Big Ten Championships.

A talented field that includes No. 17 Wisconsin, No. 22 Ohio State, No. 23 Michigan State and No. 26 Michigan makes for a challenging postseason test for the Cats. Ohio State’s Addie Engel and Michigan’s Ericka VanderLende — the two returning top five finishers that placed above McCardell at last year’s Big Ten Championships — will likely earn high finishes again.

“As I look back in all my (nine) years of Big Ten Championships … I haven’t seen so much parity across the teams that are stacked up against each other (like) this year,” Miller said. “Every coach is sitting here questioning who is the favorite out there tomorrow.”

The Cats, ranked No. 2 in the Midwest Region, will go onto the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships in two weeks time at Missouri. A top-two finish would secure NU an automatic-bid to the NCAA Championships in Oklahoma. After sending one runner in McCardell to the NCAA Championships last year, the Cats may see an indication of just how far they can keep up their historical pace this season.

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