Northwestern cross country is just around the corner, starting later this week with a meet in DeKalb. The ‘Cats will be running a 5k at the First State Bank Huskie Challenge hosted by Northern Illinois University. Despite five athletes graduating, the team will have strong runners, backed by fifth-year senior Rachael McCardell.
The Wildcats had a strong season last year, starting out with a second-place finish at their first invitational in Iowa, with McCardell taking first individually. As the season progressed, the ‘Cats had a more challenging time against nationally ranked XC programs, but they were able to place seventh in the 2021 Big Ten Cross Country Championships. Even with a lost shoe, NU placed fourth overall at the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships. McCardell qualified for the NCAA Cross-Country Championships, where she placed 82nd overall. Throughout the season, the ‘Cats set PRs and grew as a team despite a season off.
Five runners from the 2021-22 Cross Country team graduated, including three undergrads and two graduate students.
A key loss is graduate student Lotte Van Der Pol. During the 2022 track season, Van Der Pol ran a 17:04 5k, the ninth fastest time in Northwestern history. She also finished 15th overall in the regional championships last year, which almost qualified her for the Division I Championships.
Hannah Hall will also depart — she excelled during the track seasons, decreasing her 5000m time by almost 35 seconds between a January and a May meet. Hall came first in an April 5000m and set a 1500m personal best.
McCardell was at the front of the Wildcat pack all of last year and ran her way to the NCAA Cross Country Championships. She finished with a personal best at 18th overall at the Big Ten Championship and was the third Northwestern runner to be awarded First-Team All-Big Ten. McCardell finished first at the first two meets last year and continued that momentum through nationals, where she was able to pass nine runners in the last 1000m of the 6000m race. In the four years since her freshman season, she has made huge improvements, so McCardell is a runner to watch as she enters her fifth season.
Early in the 2021 season, Kalea Bartolotto managed to set a 6k PR and continued with the momentum by usually being in the first three Wildcats to finish in cross-country races, along with McCardell and Van Der Pol. Bartolotto ran a 34:19 10,000 meter race during the track season, which was a personal best by 34 seconds, and the second best in Northwestern’s record.
In the outdoor track season, graduate student Mosborg became the seventh fastest Wildcat to run a 10,000 m. She made improvements throughout the year, most notably decreasing her 3000m time by four seconds in two weeks. Mosborg became one of ten NU athletes to run a sub-10 minute 3k, joined by McCardell and Bartolotto during a February invitational, where they each placed in the top three.
A sophomore to watch this year is Ava Earl. As a first year, Earl set a 5k PB of 16:49 as well as ran the fifth best time in Northwestern’s history in the 3,000 meter. Earl’s strong performance in both longer and shorter distances in the track season should set her up for success in the upcoming cross-country season.
Marks is an incoming graduate student from Wellesley College, where she was the NCAA Division III Outdoor National Champion in the 5000m and 10,000m last year as well as runner-up in the indoor 3000m and 5000m. Marks also was the 2021 NCAA Division III Cross Country Championship Runner-up and the 2022 NCAA Division III Women’s Outdoor Track & Field National Track Athlete of the Year. In addition to her many awards and championship successes, Marks went almost undefeated in the 10,000 and 5,000-meter races last year.
The ‘Cats will get to race at some different tracks from the past few years, including right nearby at the Loyola Lakefront Invitational. After the NIU Huskie Challenge, Northwestern will have the chance to compete in Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Illinois, before returning to the Big Ten Championships in Ann Arbor at the end of October and the NCAA National Championship in Oklahoma in November.
Race results from the track seasons make the cross country season look hopeful for the Wildcats this year. Despite five runners graduating, the team still has the key athletes who will put in the work and hopefully set more records, both personal and school ones. In the second season back from the pandemic, the team has a chance to grow even more this year, and perhaps send more runners to the National Championships this year.