Cross Country: Cats set their sights on NCAA Midwest Regional Championships


Photo courtesy of Mary Kate Schoonover

Junior Kalea Bartolotto runs at the Joe Piane Invitational in October 2021. Bartolotto and Rachel McCardell have been essential to the team’s success this season.

Caryl Shepard, Reporter

Following a historic fifth-place finish at the Big Ten Cross Country Championship, Northwestern advances toward the NCAA Midwest Regional Championship this Friday. 

The Wildcats will travel to Gans Creek in Columbia, Missouri, to compete against other Midwestern teams in hopes of booking their ticket to the NCAA Division 1 Women’s Cross Championship. Currently ranked No. 2 in the Midwest Region, NU is striving to finish in either first or second place, which would guarantee an auto-bid to the National Championship. 

The team has some familiarity with the course already, having competed in the Gans Creek Classic earlier this season. Coach Jill Miller said this familiarity will be advantageous as they enter a more high-stakes meet.

“(I’m) very glad that we went earlier (this season) to understand the course and come up with a game plan that feeds into the confidence of each of our athletes,” Miller said. “I’m grateful for that experience to understand how the course runs and be able to come up with a plan that will suit our team much better (this time).”

The Cats will face significant competition at the meet, including No. 3 Oklahoma State. Since the Cowgirls will likely secure the first-place slot, NU is expecting to vie for second place. Among the Cats’ competition are Iowa State, Bradley, Minnesota and Illinois, ranked third, fourth, fifth and sixth in the region, respectively. 

The team will rely heavily on graduate student Rachel McCardell and senior Kalea Bartolotto. McCardell and Bartolotto both earned All Big-Ten honors at the Big Ten Cross Country Championship, earning seventh and eleventh places, respectively. Their low scores allowed the team to rack up 116 points for a fifth-place spot at the meet. 

Although the fifth-place finish was an impressive feat for the program, McCardell said the Cats were initially disheartened by its placing. While the difference between first and fifth places was much closer than the gap between fifth and sixth places, it motivated the team to level up at Regionals. 

“We were very satisfied and content to be in that upper level of teams, but there was definitely an element of feeling like we aren’t where we want to be as a program yet,” McCardell said. “While we’re very proud of how far the program has come, it definitely lit a fire under us to want more to want to be in the top four and the top three and the top two.”

Although NU’s No. 30 national ranking is the second-highest of any team entering the Midwestern Regional Championship, the team recognizes the competition present for the second place spot. 

Miller said the team will rely on a sense of “calm confidence” going into the Midwest Regional Championships. She said the team’s mindset has hit the “sweet spot,” and she trusts her runners to give everything they have on the course. 

McCardell said the team’s support of each other will help during tomorrow’s meet and in the program’s future. 

“It is so empowering going on the course knowing that we are a group of women that truly, genuinely, and seriously supports each other,” McCardell said. “Knowing that will carry us through (the meet) and carry this program through the years ahead.”

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