Despite freezing temperatures, harsh winds and some flurries, Northwestern finished fourth out of 32 teams at last Friday’s NCAA Midwest Regional Championships in Iowa City.
The Wildcats’s fourth place finish is its best result at the Regional Championships since 2001.
Rachel McCardell continued her stellar season, finishing third place finish in the 6K with a time of 20:49. As a top two individual finisher excluding runners on the top two teams in the race (Minnesota and Oklahoma State), McCardell automatically qualified for the National Championships in Tallahassee. She is the first Northwestern runner to secure an individual slot at Nationals since Aubrey Roberts did so in 2018.
Through the 5K mark, McCardell stuck with a tight lead pack of over a dozen runners, which included teammate Lotte van der Pol, who ended up finishing 15th with a time of 21:08. From there, the senior star outkicked the majority of the field to earn her ticket to Tallahassee.
Behind McCardell and van der Pol, the Wildcats provided great scoring depth. Kalea Bartolotto and Olivia Verbeke ran together throughout the race and picked off top runners from Illinois, which finished right behind Northwestern. Bartolotto’s powerful finishing kick in the final kilometer — where she moved up 11 spots — proved to be especially crucial. She finished 33rd with a time of 21:27 while Verbeke placed 42nd with a personal-best time of 21:32. Rounding out the top five, first-year Maggie Mason ran 22:00 to finish 77th.
This might have been Northwestern’s best showing of the 2021 season. All year, the team struggled to consistently place well behind McCardell. It was a key reason why the ‘Cats were projected to finish fifth in the Midwest Regional. But great races from Bartolotto and Verbeke helped the team defeat No. 4 ranked Illinois, which edged out Northwestern by just eight points in the Big Ten Championships.
Northwestern was the top team in the Midwest that did not earn a Nationals berth. Minnesota and Oklahoma State earned automatic bids, while third place Iowa State was selected at-large by the NCAA Cross Country Championship Committee.
In head coach Jill Miller’s third year at the helm, the Wildcats have continued to improve. Northwestern went from a 13th place finish at this meet in 2019 to a top four showing in 2021. It will be extremely difficult to fill the hole McCardell will leave at the top after she graduates, but Miller appears to be building a solid program that can overcome that loss in the long-term. As tough as that is in the Big Ten, Northwestern has the potential to at least maintain its middle-of-the-pack position in the conference.
McCardell will cap off her season in Tallahassee next Saturday at 9:20 a.m. Central Time. Fans can watch her race on ESPNU or the ESPN app.