Cross Country: Northwestern heads to first NCAA Division 1 Cross Country Championship in twenty years


Photo courtesy of Megan Slamkowski

The Cats are heading to Stillwater, Oklahoma to compete in the NCAA Championships for the third time in program history.

Caryl Shepard, Reporter

After an impressive second-place showing at the Midwest Regional Championship last week, Northwestern women’s cross country has advanced to the NCAA Division 1 Championship for the first time since 2002. 

NU will join the top 31 teams in the nation at the Oklahoma State Greiner Family Cross Country Course this Saturday. The Cats are looking to make an impact in Stillwater, Oklahoma, by surpassing higher ranked programs and reminding other programs why they deserve to be there. 

“The last time (NU) was at the national championship, they were either dead last or second-to-last out of the teams that were competing,” senior Kalea Bartolotto said. “We’re gonna go and show that it’s not a fluke that we’re at the national championship, and we want to fight for a decent spot.” 

NU qualified for the meet after a historic second place finish at the Midwest Regional Championships in Columbia, Missouri last Friday. The Cats were led by graduate students Rachel McCardell and Ari Marks, as well as Bartolotto and sophomore Ava Earl, who finished in eighth, 13th, 15th, and 25th places, respectively. The Cats finished with 88 points, securing them an auto-bid spot at the national championship. 

Despite the strong showing, Marks said she and her teammates initially lacked confidence. But, as the season went on and NU recorded strong performances, she said their ambitions grew.

Coach Jill Miller’s guidance was also key to the Cats reaching their goal.

Since Miller became head coach in 2019, NU has seen significant progress. Her leadership has propelled the team to securing a spot at the national championship for the third time in program history. 

Bartolotto said Miller has fostered a supportive team culture. 

“Looking at where we were four years ago, we’re just not the same program at all that we are now,” Bartolotto said. “Jill has fostered a culture of being competitive in the Big Ten, being able to be a strong academic and athletic school and program, and just really empowering us to be strong women both on the course and off the course.” 

Going into Saturday’s meet, Miller said she hopes her team will defy others’ expectations and “give everything” on the course. 

By adhering to this race plan and mapping out the course, the Cats hope to make a national impact at the meet and boost their current 30th place ranking. 

Earl said she is excited to compete at a national meet and hopes to leave it all out on the course.

“As long as we just keep doing what we’re doing and focus on the process and trust in our training, we’ll do well,” Earl said. “It’s just gonna be (a) really exciting day that we’ve worked hard for, so we’re trying to make the most of that.” 

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

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