Cross Country: Northwestern qualifies for its first NCAA Championships in 20 years


Photo courtesy of Megan Slamkowski

Graduate students Rachel McCardell, Ari Marks, and senior Kalea Bartolotto run as a pack. All three achieved All-Region recognition at NCAA Midwest Regionals, alongside sophomore Ava Earl.

Kate Walter, Assistant Sports Editor

Time to lace up the spikes and the dancing shoes. 

No. 30 Northwestern is going to the big dance for the first time since 2002. The Wildcats placed second at the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships, automatically qualifying for the Nov. 19 NCAA Division I Women’s Cross Country Championships in Stillwater, Oklahoma. 

Graduate student Rachel McCardell crossed the line in 20:22 in the 6k, placing eighth and leading NU’s historic performance with an All-Region finish.

“It was honestly the best moment with this team of my entire four and a half years so far — just the collective sigh and pride and joy that we all felt in that moment,” McCardell said. 

Four Cats achieved All-Region recognition by placing in the top 25 — the most in program history. Graduate student Ari Marks, (20:29) senior Kalea Bartolotto (20:31) and sophomore Ava Earl (20:44) finished in 13th, 15th and 25th, respectively. 

In her fourth season as head coach, coach Jill Miller has led the program to the type of success it hasn’t experienced since the early 2000s. After finishing 13th at Regionals in 2019, the Cats climbed 11 places to take second and punch their ticket to the NCAA Championship. Teams must place in the top two of their region or receive an at-large bid to qualify for Nationals. 

“I’m sure some people from the outside would think we were crazy three years ago to see that we wanted to turn this into a program that consistently qualifies the national championship,” Miller said. “But my staff, and the athletes included, have just stayed really steadfast to that goal, even during some really hard moments.”

Beginning the season ranked fourth in the Midwest Region, the Cats steadily climbed to a second place ranking after a win at the Bradley Pink Classic last month. The win also propelled NU to break the national rankings for the first time in 20 years, coming in at No. 29. 

The Cats then kicked off a postseason for the history books with a fifth place finish at Big Ten Championships — the team’s highest since 1986. McCardell and Bartolotto achieved All-Big Ten honors for their seventh and 11th place finishes, respectively. 

NU finished behind No. 3 Oklahoma State, the 2022 Big 12 Champions. Bradley University was 11 points behind the Cats in third place. NU finished the highest out of any Big Ten team, placing ahead of Minnesota, Illinois, Nebraska and Iowa. 

The Cats will tackle their final leg of the postseason next week at the NCAA Championship, toeing the line alongside 30 of the nation’s top teams. 

Miller said NU isn’t letting up before then.

“We do not want to be a team that is satisfied with just qualifying,” Miller said. “We want to see what we can do to overachieve and surprise some teams out there in Stillwater next Saturday.”

Last season, McCardell qualified individually for NCAA Championship with a third place finish at Regionals, the highest finish for an NU runner in recent history. 

Ahead of Saturday’s meet, McCardell said she remembers when Miller took over the program with her vision of the team qualifying for NCAA Championships.

“To us, those were just monumental goals that we couldn’t fathom,” McCardell said. “She (Miller) just really seeded that idea in our head and eventually, as we started to see the progress being made, we started to believe it. But again, believing is only so much — it actually happening is so much bigger.”

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Twitter: @katewalter03

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