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Cross Country: McCardell places fifth, ‘Cats seventh at Big Ten Championships

The ‘Cats are powered by one of the greatest individual seasons in program history.

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As the fall season nears its close, Northwestern began its postseason schedule in a huge way at the Big Ten Championships last Friday, battling the elements to place seventh out of a field of 14 teams.

Northwestern was led by usual frontrunner Rachel McCardell, who placed fifth with a 6K time of 20:45. The finish was good enough to for her to be named to the All-Big Ten First Team, joining Aubrey Roberts in 2017-2018 and Rachel Evjen in 2001 as the only Wildcats to ever receive the honor. The senior managed to stay within reach of the front pack for the entirety of the race, and through three miles, was only two seconds back from the top four. Additionally, McCardell beat the 2020 individual champion, Minnesota’s Bethany Hasz, and two Michigan runners, each of which had beaten her earlier this season.

Behind McCardell was graduate student Lotte van der Pol, running a time of 21:15 to place 22nd. The mark is just five seconds off of her last meet’s effort in which she led the ‘Cats. Van der Pol’s near-top 20 finish continues a great season for the Dutch runner, one in which she has consistently been in Northwestern’s top three along with junior Kalea Bartolotto. To this point, Bartolotto had finished in front of or within two seconds of van der Pol in each race this season. However, she struggled in the high competition, falling 35 seconds and 26 places behind her teammate.

Senior Olivia Veberke crossed the line just after Bartolotto, placing 53rd in 21:53 to set a new season and all-time personal best. First-year Amanda Mosborg rounded out the top five by also setting personal records for her young career, running 21:57 to finish 61st.

The Wildcats’ seventh place finish holds more value to it than an first glance. While the placing itself might not stand out, five of the six teams the ‘Cats finished behind were ranked nationally entering the meet, a sign of great improvement from a team that finished second to last in the Big Ten just two seasons ago. Northwestern also placed seventh at last year’s Big Ten Championships, although only 10 of the 14 teams in the conference participated in that meet.

Northwestern will take another off week before traveling to Iowa City to compete in the Midwest Regional Championship next Friday. There, they will have the chance to qualify for the NCAA Championships on November 20th. Currently ranked fifth in the region behind three of the top 13 teams in the nation plus formerly-ranked Illinois, it appears unlikely that the Wildcats would earn the top-two placing required to receive an automatic bid to Nationals. However, an outstanding effort by Northwestern’s third through fifth runners could give the team fighting chance at one of the NCAA’s 13 at-large bids. This assumes Northwestern leap frogs Illinois, which it was only eight points behind last weekend, and then finishes moderately close to No. 13 Iowa State.

The team’s odds to appear on the national scene may not be likely, but with another stellar performance, McCardell could find herself racing solo in Tallahassee. McCardell can receive an automatic qualification to Nationals by finishing in the top four in Iowa City, an achievement that is certainly within range for her. The senior’s 20:45 from the Big Ten Championships ranks second among athletes in the Midwest Region, albeit many of the other runners raced on different courses. Even if she doesn’t place in the top four in the region, McCardell can still be selected for the National Championships as one of the NCAA’s 38 individual at-large bids.

In an incredibly fast conference like the Big Ten, the Wildcats were able to hold their own against some of the best in the country. While next week’s race in Iowa City may be the last of the season for many of these Northwestern runners, the results this season have shown that the program may be nearing a turning point towards becoming competitive in the future.